Ex-USAMRIID Scientist Defends Bruce Ivins Using Back-of-the-Envelope Math

A microbiologist who once worked with suspected anthrax mailer Bruce Ivins mounted a spirited defense of his colleague today after giving a presentation to a National Academies panel that’s reviewing the science behind the case. Henry “Hank” Heine, who left the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in February 2010 after testing antibiotics there for 11 years, told reporters during an impromptu press conference this afternoon that by his estimates, it would have taken Ivins at least a year of dedicated work to grow the total amount of anthrax spores contained in the eight letters. And that would have been impossible to do in secrecy. Heine caveated his remarks by saying that he himself had no experience making anthrax stocks

However, Adam Driks, an anthrax researcher at Loyola University Chicago in Illinois who routinely makes anthrax stocks for research, says Heine’s assertion about the effort required to prepare the attack material did not appear to be true. “I don’t think it would be that laborious to generate that amount of material,” Driks told ScienceInsider. Making 10 to 15 liters of anthrax—which is approximately how much would have been required—“might have meant having to use many, many little flasks (20 to 50 milliliters each) over a number of days,” says Driks. “With an iPod, you could work through it without too much pain.”

Heine, who was himself a suspect early on in the investigation—along with several other USAMRIID researchers—told reporters that he had serious misgivings about how the Federal Bureau of Investigation had handled the case. “I have a strong desire to clear Bruce’s name,” he told reporters.

*This item has been updated to include more information.