JERUSALEM -- As Israel slowly turns to readying itself for "any eventuality" -- by reopening gas-mask distribution centers, urging the public to exchange expired warfare protection kits for new ones, and issuing assurances from the Israeli Health Ministry that it is "fully equipped and prepared" for all possible scenarios -- scientists from Israel, Jordan, Cyprus, Turkey and the Palestinian Authority presented a plan for protection against biological warfare, by immunizing nations against viral weapons.

The scientists gathered at the third annual Symposium on Science for Peace, a joint effort of UNESCO and the Hebrew University International School for Molecular Biology and Microbiology (ISMBM), of Jerusalem, in which researchers from a dozen nations joined to propose ways in which scientists (mainly molecular biologists and microbiologists) can contribute to the furtherance of peace.

"We endorsed and consolidated scientific efforts that could be achieved and applied by supporting the establishment of the Middle East Regional Scientific Cooperation Network System [MERSCNS]," said committee co-organizer Mukla Amarin, from Amman, Jordan. The idea was first presented last year at the first International Workshop on Virus Diseases of Humans, Animals, Fish and Plants in the Middle East and Neighboring Countries.

The organizing committee of MERSCNS will at first be located at ISMBM and chaired by Yechiel Becker, director of the school, who initiated and organized the Symposia for Peace series in 1995.

Becker described a new synthetic oral or transdermal vaccine that could provide immunity to biological weapons. He said the Langerhans cells in the skin's epidermis pass viral peptides into the lymphatic system, stimulating a cellular immune response. The mechanism, designated "peplotion vaccine," appears to be "as effective as vaccination by injection," and, "when developed, will be useful for self-application via skin, genitalia and gut, and continual stimulation of antiviral cytotoxic T cells in uninfected individuals and in HIV-1 or other viral carriers," he said. "The vaccine will be affordable for all human-populations and far more practical for developing nations that have a shortage of sterile, disposable hypodermic needles."

Another approach, using recombinant naked DNA vaccines, was taken by Yehuda Stram.

"DNA vaccines combine the benefits of live attenuated virus vaccines, full humoral and cell-mediated immune protection, with none of their disadvantages, such as the fear of revertant viruses able to precipitate the disease, microbial contamination during production and high costs of production," Stram said. "When introduced into animal cells [muscle or skin immune-presenting cells], DNA vaccine proved that it could induce antibodies and provide protection against a large number of viruses." *