University of Missouri develops faster anthrax detection method

Researchers at the University of Missouri and Guild BioSciences recently developed a new method to detect anthrax within a few hours.

The research team found the new process can detect low levels of anthrax bacteria, as well as rule out false positives, southcountymail.com reports.

"Normally to identify whether an organism is present, you have to extract the material, culture it, and then pick colonies to examine that might turn out to be anthrax bacteria," George Stewart, a medical bacteriologist at University of Missouri Bond Life Sciences Center, said, according to southcountymail.com. "Then you conduct chemical testing which takes some time-a minimum of 24 to 48 hours. Using this newly-identified method, we can reduce that time to about five hours."

Stewart and graduate student Krista Spreng injected a "bioluminescent reporter phage" virus into a sample, which caused anthrax to glow if present. The process is able to show if anthrax is present and if the spores are alive, reported southcountymail.com.

When anthrax was mailed to news outlets and government buildings after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the bacteria killed five people and infected 17 more. The event cost $3.2 million in cleanup and decontamination, according to a 2012 report.

"In the years since the post 9/11 postal attacks, we haven't had any bona fide anthrax attacks," Stewart said, according to southcountymail.com. "That doesn't mean that it's not going to happen, we just have to be prepared for when it does occur again."

MU's research was funded by the USDA and published in the Journal of Microbiological Methods.