But one significant advance in modern forensic science came in 2001, with the anthrax attacks in Florida, New York, and Washington, DC that began one week after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Letters containing deadly bacterial spores that caused anthrax were sent to several news media offices and two US senators. Five people died and 17 were infected, triggering one of the largest FBI investigations in history.
That investigation marked the birth of microbial forensics, according to Bruce Budowle, a geneticist with the University of North Texas Health Science Center who was with the FBI at the time. “There was an attack, there was forensic evidence, it was microbial evidence, and we were woefully unprepared for it,” Budowle said. “The technology at the time was limited, so we created the field of microbial forensics. It was dedicated to the analysis of microbial evidence related to a bioterrorist act or a bio-crime. It was very focused on using microbes or their by-products as a weapon.”