"The Andromeda Strain"

  1. J. Lederberg to W. A. Koshland (Andromeda Strain): June 25, 1969
  2. J. Lederberg to W. A. Koshland (Andromeda Strain): June 6, 1969
  3. J. Lederberg to W. A. Koshland (Andromeda Strain): film
  4. "The Exploitation of the Bacillus Subtilis Transforming System in a Bio-Satellite Experiment"
         A Proposal by Esther M. Lederberg, Instrumentation Laboratory, Stanford, May 6, 1963

In the letters above, Joshua Lederberg points out that several people have identified him with the primary character "Dr. Jeremy Stone" in the book (and film) "The Andromeda Strain", by Michael Crichton. Joshua Lederberg strongly objected to any such identification between himself and this character, who is shown using maps obtained from Biological Warfare research institutions. (Of course, to do research at Camp Detrick a decade earlier, Joshua Lederberg himself had a TOP SECRET clearance.)

Joshua Lederberg was one of the few researchers doing research in transduction. Transduction can be used to transfer DNA subsequences from viruses to bacteria, and between bacteria. It is conceivable that DNA sequences, if found in extraterrestrial environments, might also be capable of transduction with terrestrial life forms. This offers the possibility of using extraterrestrial DNA as a biological weapon. Furthermore, the realization of this form of transduction might even be transferred to a very common bacterium, such as E. coli. Such a synthetic E. coli biological weapon might also be coupled with an E. coli that is a temperature-sensitive mutant, which would be likely to survive only within limited ranges of temperature. For example, an E. coli temperature-sensitive biological weapon could be targeted for deployment in a place like Cuba, and might offer difficulties in spreading to other areas in the United States. If biological warfare was subsequently suspected the perpetrator could say that this was merely a more virulent form of E. coli. Thus the use of such a biological weapon could be hard to prove.

Once he was no longer actively engaged in microbial genetics research, Joshua Lederberg did work in the field of "exobiology" (or "esobiology")1, 2, terms Joshua Lederberg himself coined. The following section explores some parallels between the techniques used to create biological weapons, and the technologies used by exobiologists.

Joshua Lederberg: The Cold War and Biological Warfare

The following expresses the opinion of the creators of this website.

The Space Studies Board (later renamed the Space Science Board) enlisted the support of such public scientific figures as Aaron Novick (who participated in the Manhattan Project, then left nuclear science due to his disgust at having helped create a destructive weapon that could not be controlled), Carl Sagan, Salvador Luria (briefly blacklisted for his outspoken political opinions until shortly after he became co-recipient of the Nobel prize in 1968), and Harold C. Urey (who had done experiments to show that precursors of life could spontaneously form in outer space), as well as other prominent geneticists. Most of these researchers apparently felt that Fort Detrick, with its expertise in contamination and possible back-contamination, would be an appropriate resource for developing ways to avoid contamination in the space program. However, exobiology also had a covert purpose: the decontamination of returning space vehicles could also be used to clandestinely collect any non-terrestrial microbial life forms found on or in returning space vehicles, which could then be studied for their possible use as agents of biological warfare, as discussed above. It is not clear that these researchers (with the exclusion of Joshua Lederberg) were aware of the possible intention to create new biological weapons. (It should be noted that devices were being created at Fort Detrick with the express purpose of seeking extraterrestrial life forms, as discussed in some of the links below.)

The book and film "The Andromeda Strain" was then used as propaganda to further the uses of Fort Detrick's development of biological warfare. As Joshua Lederberg viewed it, the possible development of offensive biological warfare should be hidden. As he wrote: "...don't let the papers learn you have BW [Biological Warfare] in on the rockets!"

"... by actively defining the American space program as one with 'scientifically valid' goals, they supported the idea of the United States as an 'open society' – a primary component of the American Cold War public relations arsenal. The study of exobiology allowed these civilian scientists simultaneously to proclaim their independence from and offer their support to the U.S. quest for a place in the technoscientific world order." 3

"... the exobiologists faced an uphill battle for scientific legitimacy. Lederberg and his colleagues found themselves in the unusual position of offering a science that sounded remarkably like science fiction as the most valid enterprise of the space program."4

"More practically, exobiology had direct implications for the development of biological weapons. Both scholarly investigations and the anthrax scares of 2001 and 2002 have revealed the extent of the American military's interest in offensive and defensive biological weapons throughout most of the Cold War. Clearly, the nation had an interest in whatever unique microbes might be discovered on the surfaces of other planets, whether to protect earthlings from 'back contamination' or to use the new organisms for darker purposes." 5

"The SSB's (Space Studies Board) suggestions for mechanisms of space probe sterilization offered a marked contrast to their calls for international scientific cooperation. From early in 1959 the SSB strongly recommended that NASA contract with the Army Biological Warfare Laboratories at Fort Detrick, Maryland, to design both sterilization procedures and extraterrestrial microbiological detection devices, noting that researchers at Fort Detrick were 'superbly equipped both in experience and facilities for this type of work.'" [See the figure below for the kinds of biological warfare equipment that a researcher such as Joshua Lederberg could have used at Fort Detrick] ... "Keenly aware of the need for public support, Lederberg admonished a colleague, 'But don't let the papers learn you have BW in on the rockets!'" 6


The apparatus used for exobiological life, if found, in Biological Warfare.
A researcher like Joshua Lederberg could have used this apparatus.

"Lederberg's correspondence with Charles Phillips of the Biological Warfare Laboratories at Fort Detrick suggests that he had more than a passing familiarity with the experiments conducted and the techniques used at the facility. In responding to a query about possible biological experiments in space, for example, Lederberg commented that Fort Detrick had already conducted studies on the 'survivorship of bacteria in chemical explosions', precluding the need for NASA scientists to repeat this work. He and Phillips shared manuscripts, research results, and ideas for early warning detection systems. This was a mutually beneficial arrangement: Lederberg gained informal access to protected information, and Phillips gained the prestige of association with a Nobel laureate." 7, 8

Esther M. Lederberg told her second husband that Joshua Lederberg had engaged in research at Fort Detrick. An initial attempt to determine the subjects of the research Joshua Lederberg did at that institution was unsuccessful; requests for information under the Freedom Of Information Act (through U.S. Congressperson Anna Eshoo) found no published papers. Why? Papers published at Ft. Detrick are not organized by author, but by exact title. Thus, to find documents, one must first possess the exact title of the very documents sought. This is not censorship per se, as the information is available, but a better strategem to ensure the documents sought will never be found, couldn't be devised. Click here for further information.

However, to our surprise, a careful search of Joshua Lederberg's own "Profiles in Science" NLM website revealed evidence that Joshua Lederberg was under contract to do research at Camp Detrick, and that his research involved efforts to decrease the survivability of targeted exposure to biological warfare agents. To verify this, click here.

1 "SIGNS OF LIFE: CRITERION-SYSTEM OF EXOBIOLOGY", by Prof. Joshua Lederberg, Nature, Vol. 207. No. 4992, pp. 9-13, July 3, 1965
2 "Simpson's oft-quoted description of exobiologists as 'ex-biologists' did more than exclude exobiologists from science; it also implied that the physical and chemical techniques favored by molecular biologists, biochemists, and biophysicists should not be considered biological work (a point he made explicit elsewhere by defining their interests as 'not biology, strictly speaking')."
"Germs in Space: Joshua Lederberg, Exobiology, and the Public Imagination, 1958–1964", by Audra J. Wolfe, Rutgers University Press, Isis, 2002, 93:183-205, p. 197
"For Simpson and Mayr, such programmes presupposed the existence of trends in evolution, inexorably leading to the formation of intelligent organisms, humanoids, similar to human beings in their cognitive abilities. Such a conviction stemmed from a blind belief in determinism, a misunderstanding of the Darwinian theory of evolution, and an ignorance of evolutionary facts: cephalization is not a major trend in evolution, and is far less visible, for instance, than the repeated acquisition of eyes. What is selected in organisms is not 'higher qualities', but adaptation to a specific environment... "
"What history tells us X. Fifty years ago: the beginnings of exobiology", by Michel Morange, J. Biosci. 32(6), September 2007, 10831087 (p. 1085)
Dr. Simpson seems to be focusing upon Joshua Lederberg's repeatedly stated views about 'intelligence'; in this case, as applied to exobiology. The first case, already noted elsewhere in this website, is Joshua Lederberg's views about intelligence as relevant to eugenics. See http://www.estherlederberg.com/Shockley/Shockley Anecdotes/NLM pirated bbaoip JL on Shockley's Accusation of Lysenkoism 8-21-69.html
3 "Germs in Space: Joshua Lederberg, Exobiology, and the Public Imagination, 1958–1964", by Audra J. Wolfe, Rutgers University Press, Isis, 2002, 93:183-205, p. 185
4 ibid., p. 190
5 ibid., p. 199
6 ibid., p. 201
7 ibid., pp. 201-202
8 "In the mid-1980s, former Lt. Col. Murray Sanders claimed to have heard that Ishii [Shiro] and Naito [Ryōichi] were flown to the United States about this time [during the Korean War] to give lectures on BW at a special camp. The lectures supposedly included detailed information on human testing of infectious diseases." See "Unit 731", by Williams, Peter and Wallace, David, Grafton, 1990, p. 272. Lieutenant General Ishii Shiro [Japanese Biological Warfare, Unit 731, director of the Ping Fan facility]: It was well known that one of the difficulties to be overcome in creating a bomb to disperse living biological agents was that the high temperature of the explosion killed or weakened the infectious agents. Ishii Shiro was credited with developing a ceramic bomb that could disperse living biological warfare agents at lower temperatures.


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