Monday 15 May 2023


My youtube feed is bloody woeful; same ould same ould shite that I might have clicked-in-error months ago. What I really want is a random selection of peculiarities that I've never 'eard of. I have been to The History Guy - a USian feller with a bow-tie and clear diction - before but not this year, so I was interested to look-see what he had to say about Johnson Atoll a US government owned "bird-sanctuary" and weapons-testing facility in the middle of the Pacific. As well as poorly fore-thought, poorly controlled, nuclear debacles [Blue Gill Prime 25 June 1962], the site was also used for bio-weapons testing.

Project SHAD Shipboard Hazard and Defense investigated the dispersal of biological agents about the same size - 1-5μm -  as, say Bacillus anthracis a pathogen which we've encountered before on Gruinard Anthrax Island. The first step is to investigate the best way of dispersing / targeting such an agent so that it rains down on the Soviets [Bad Guys R] while minimizing collateral damage to USMC / USN personnel [White hats]. It was as if the multiple own goals (which proved that the wind is fickle mistress) in WWI had never happened. 

The apple falleth not far from the tree! The mad boffins lit upon Bacillus globigii which is close enough [exactly the same 2μm size anyway] to B. anthracis and has the advantage of forming black colonies when spread on Petri dishes. The central conceit of SHAD was to expose USN ships to "Agent BG" delivered in a variety of SciFi vehicles and then swap down the surfaces afterwards to see how far and fast the bacteria had travelled. "In Project SHAD, B. globigii was one of the simulants for biological warfare agents. It was used to determine characteristics such as the behavior of biological aerosols such as downwind travel, dispersion, penetration, and the tenacity of its presence after washing equipment" Bacillus globigii is now known as B. atrophaeus but some [lumpers!] taxonomists think it squeezes nicely in the spectrum of Bacillus subtilis - a genetic and bio-fermentation work-horse which we've met before.

If this sounds suspiciously close to the USN raining Serratia marcescens down on San Francisco in Operation Sea-Spray, that's because it was the same operatives ringing the changes on the bacteriological colour spectrum. That exposure turned out to be fatal to at least one US citizen who didn't sign an informed consent form! Almost all the participants in the SHAD shenanigans were also oblivious to the fact that they were guinea-pigs in an experiment. The biowarfare folks, seemed to have given "Agent BG" a GRAS [generally recognised as safe] designation without, like, actually carrying out some studies to test that assumption. And it turned out that this blasé certainty was quite unjustified although it took 30 years for the Feds to admit this. Most healthy adults will successfully resist the assault - so there wasn't a rush to the infirmary aboard the ships involved in SHAD - but Bacillus globigii has been identified in infections from prostheses and catheters as well as ingested food. The black colonies of B. globigii is not the Black Death but it's not completely harmless either.

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