Naturally occurring enzyme could fight nerve gas attacks

Israeli scientists have found a way to amplify the protective effect of a natural detoxification enzyme made in the liver to be used to counter nerve gas attacks by terrorists.

The biological catalyst, called paraoxonase 1, was made as much as 3,400 times more capable of breaking down the most lethal nerve agent chemicals. The researchers hope that the enhanced variants of PON1 could neutralize sarin, the chemical weapon used in the Tokyo subway attack in 1995.

PON1 is used by the body for detoxification in the liver. While it is not strong enough to break down most nerve gases in its original form, the scientists made the enzyme stronger by using genetically engineered bacteria as drug factories to manufacture the catalyst. Using the directed evolution process, the enzyme was made much more powerful.

"The sarin attack in Tokyo in 1995 demonstrated that both the raw materials and know-how of producing deadly nerve agents are available to people outside government or military institutions," Moshe Goldsmith, the lead scientist from the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel, said. "We hope that our work would provide a prophylactic drug that will effectively protect the medical, police, and other teams that will have to act in a contaminated area following such an attack and would also provide these teams with a drug that could be administered on-site to intoxicated individuals to greatly improve their chances of survival."