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DARPA Funds Research into Nerve Agent Drug Made Using Tobacco

The U.S. Defense Department's elite scientific research agency earlier this month authorized $2.7 million in funding to support a Kentucky firm's study into how tobacco plants can be used to grow a countermeasure to nerve agents, Wired reported on Thursday.

Kentucky Bioprocessing will use the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency grant to develop a potential countermeasure that could be administered to U.S. military personnel before they are sent to conflict areas where they could face a chemical attack. Protection now would require special breathing apparatuses and other equipment that is bulky and found in limited quantities.

DARPA officials believe an enzyme created by the human liver, butyrylcholinesterase, could have applications as a countermeasure that would degrade and ultimately render nerve agent molecules harmless in the blood stream. The defense science agency is looking for alternatives means of manufacturing the enzyme, also known as rBuChE, and selected Kentucky Bioprocessing's proposal to use the Nicotiana benthamiana plant for large-scale production.
 
It is not yet known whether the rBuChE culled from the plant will perform in the same manner as that produced by the liver.
 

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