University of Missouri scientists have discovered a new diagnostic procedure that drastically reduces the time it takes to identify the presence of anthrax.
Tests currently used by emergency responders to check for anthrax in a culture — extracted from the environment or a bioweapon-delivery device — can take as long as two days to return results.
The new developmental method takes roughly five hours, which could allow authorities to respond to a confirmed biological-weapons incident much more quickly, according to a Wednesday news release from the university.
“Normally to identify whether an organism is present, you have to extract the material, culture it, and then pick colonies to examine that might turn out to be anthrax bacteria,” George Stewart, a medical bacteriologist at the school’s Bond Life Sciences Center, said in provided comments. “Then you conduct chemical testing which takes some time — a minimum of 24 to 48 hours. Using this newly identified method, we can reduce that time to about five hours.”
The biotechnology firm Guild BioSciences created a pathogen called “bioluminescent reporter phage,” which Stewart and his team injected into samples. When anthrax was present, the sample glowed. The researchers learned the phage was capable of detecting small amounts of anthrax spores and did not emit false alarms.
The U.S. Agriculture Department-funded method also can identify whether anthrax spores are active, according to Stewart.
The public-private research team next plans to seek regulatory approval from the federal government so the diagnostic technology can be developed into a distributable product.