But despite all these flaws, the circumstantial evidence remains compelling. It could just be a coincidence that the killer spores were ultimately traced back to a single parent flask and that this flask just happened to be overseen by a depressed scientist with occasional violent fantasies. It could just be a coincidence that this same scientist screwed up his anthrax submission to the FBI—even though he helped develop the submission protocols. It could just be a coincidence that his after-hours work spiked right before the mailings. But put all of those coincidences together and something stronger than happenstance emerges. For the Justice Department, it’s enough to prove Ivins was the anthrax mailer.
Like all living things, anthracis produces mutant offspring as it multiplies. But those mutants have trouble going dormant. When the anthrax loses its host, many mutants die out and the bacteria returns to a near-pure state. It’s almost as if the law of evolution doesn’t apply.
Meanwhile, Fraser-Liggett’s team had genetically sequenced the four telltale mutants that grew out of the killer anthrax. They were all 99.99 percent identical. But that tiny fraction of difference—less than a thousand base pairs—was enough to give each mutant a unique genomic signature. If a batch of anthrax tested positive for these four morphs, it meant that it was provably identical to the attack anthrax. Before, researchers had relied on Worsham’s discerning but still subjective eye to tell them which strains looked similar to the morphs in the killer batches. Now they had the kind of hard genetic data they could take to a judge and jury.
Ivans might have been involved in preparing the anthrax,
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