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Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues

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Microscopic Tools Studied for Biothreat Detection

Infinitesimally small strands of material are being studied for use as a diagnostic tool in identifying disease agents that could be used in acts of bioterrorism, Virginia Tech announced yesterday (see GSN, July 16, 2009).

With a grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Heath, university scientists are developing nanotechnology biosensor tools to detect the bacteria that cause tularemia, glanders and melioidosis, the university said in a press release.

The diagnostic test involves covering nano-sized optical fibers with antibodies that would attach to the DNA or antigens in the bacteria. Once this occurs, the degree of light that would otherwise filter through the fiber is reduced, demonstrating the existence of the disease material.

"This assay [test] will be rugged, portable, inexpensive and rapid," researcher Thomas Inzana said in the release. "All of these are critical to minimizing the affect on an intentionally introduced biological weapon."

Inzana said quicker identification of biological threats would also decrease the gap in time from infection to treatment.

The diagnostic tests in use now for identifying biological threats involve sending specimens to Biosecurity Level 3 laboratories for analysis or relying on "serology or antibody-based testing," the release states. These two options necessitate a great deal of training and resources and can require weeks to produce results (Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University release, Jan. 12).

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