Anthrax Detection Solved!
With people dying of Anthrax exposure and traces of the spores being found in several places, and with post offices being especially at risk, a way of detecting Anthrax on the spot is needed. The technology already exists. It is now just a matter of implementing it.
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
An article by Matt Palmquist, The Anthrax Detector No One Wants, in the October 24-30, 2001, SF Weekly (San Francisco Bay Area, California) reports that in 1997, Nancy McKinney, a former researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, discovered a DNA marker for Bacillus anthracis. DNA is the genetic code in cells, including the anthrax bacterium. The research was financed by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Office of Naval Research of the U.S. Navy.
A device similar to a smoke detector could be developed to sense the marker from spores of any strain of anthrax. An entrepreneur could license the technology from the University of California, which runs the Lab.
Current tests for anthrax identify it by its plasmids, DNA outside of chromosomes. McKinney found a more specific gene sequence. With that information, a vacuum device could suck in air samples and subject the spores to DNA probes. DNA can act like an electrical circuit, and a specific type of DNA could complete a circuit that would set off an alarm. It would not require a large amount of spores, and there would not be false alarms. The detectors could be installed in post offices and other buildings, providing early warning that would save lives.
However, it may be some time before we see anthrax detectors sold in hardware stores. First, an entrepreneur has to get the license and the financing. Second, a kit would require approval from the FDA, the food and drug administration. One would have to find a facility with access to spores of various strains, and such places are regulated by the federal government.
Until recently, there has been little demand for such a kit, so little incentive for enterprises to jump through the bureaucratic hoops. Now, the demand is there from the public. In this down economy, surely some biotech firm would jump at the chance to produce this needed product. The question, as usual, is whether the federal agencies will put obstacles in the way of the implementation of the technology that could save us from the threat of anthrax in our mail.
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2001 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
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