Scientists Discover Fast-Acting Anthrax Identification Test

Global Security Newswire Staff
Feb. 27, 2014, 6:21 a.m.

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.

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