The scientists from those labs were the best in their field — testing deadly infections and antidotes. Now, those same scientists are free agents and it is understandable why so-called rogue states, like Iraq and North Korea, would love to recruit them.
But, in a dramatic reversal, reports CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Palmer, the scientists that developed biological weapons of mass destruction are developing better ways to administer life-saving drugs.
Since the end of the Cold War, hundreds of millions of United States tax dollars were funneled into Russia to keep scientists at home to work on biological research in cooperation with the West. The program helped deter the scientist from working on bio-terrorism projects for America's enemies.
Some of the results are practical and have a whiff of commercial success about them. One successful project has developed worms that purify human waste. In other words, the worms live on sewage.
The scientific and profit breakthrough has caught the eye of Diversa, a California genetics company which is cataloguing DNA from all over the planet. The company is setting up joint ventures in former bio-weapons labs with the U.S. government's support.
The war on terrorism in America has given a new urgency to one of its commercial projects — using leading Russian anthrax experts to help develop an instant detection system for the spores.
Although the Soviet Union signed the convention banning biological weapons research in 1972, scientist there continued researching for another 20 years. It is still a sensitive subject — making scientific collaborations even more surprising.
"Even ten years ago, I could not have believed this kind of partnership was possible," said Dr. Roman Borovick of the Research Center for Toxicology and Hygienic Regulation of Biopreparations. "We knew the Cold War was madness — but we didn't think it could change."
These joint ventures are bargains for Americans. In Russia, they can hire a whole lab for what they would pay for one California scientist.
"I think they've had to do with some minimal resources, and have developed some very creative ways of addressing problems that perhaps in a more resource rich environment we haven't had to deal with," said Diversa's Dr. David Nunn. "I think they've had to do with some minimal resources, and have developed some very creative ways of addressing problems that perhaps in a more resource rich environment we haven't had to deal with."
It's a brave new world where former enemies now face common threats. Today, the Cold War adversaries share secrets, toasts, and, perhaps, even some profit.