Scientists adapt enzyme to block sarin
The scientists from the U.S. Army and Texas A&M University began with the phosphotriesterase protein, an enzyme that can detoxify chemical warfare agents like sarin and some pesticides. The researchers used the process of directed evolution to bolster the protein's detoxification properties, Investors.com reports.
Researchers David Barondeau, Frank Raushel and their colleagues explained the process in their research article, entitled "Enzymes for the Homeland Defense: Optimizing Phosphotriesterase for the Hydrolysis of Organophosphate Nerve Agents," which was published in the journal Biochemistry.
Directed evolution imitates natural selection by making small random changes in a substance and testing the resultant mutant substances. The researchers used the process to isolate mutated enzymes that were more effective at breaking down nerve agents. One of the resulting enzymes was 15,000 more effective at breaking down chemical agents like sarin than the original enzyme, Phys.org reports.
Sarin is a human-made chemical warfare agent that was originally used as a pesticide in Germany in 1938. Sarin was used in two terrorist attacks in Japan in 1994 and 1995 and may have been used during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s.