Study indicates sequencing possibilities for irradiated anthrax samples

Anthrax spores | Courtesy of the CDC

The American Society of Microbiology (ASM) announced Friday that a recent study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology indicates the ability to sequence anthrax samples that have been irradiated.

The ASM stated that select government offices have all mail correspondence irradiated to eliminate potential biological threats, specifically after the mailed anthrax cases that occurred in 2001. Henry Gibbons, a researcher at the U.S. Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, found it is possible to use fragmented DNA to figure out a full genomic sequence.

The study used Bacillus atrophaeus, a related strain to anthrax that is not pathogenic and produces spores. The irradiation process fragments the DNA information of samples. By collecting these and processing them through a computer, the team was able to sequence the full genome. Gibbons said the control and post-irradiation samples were nearly identical and reported known mutations.

The anthrax attacks that took place in September 2001 killed five individuals.

“Rapid sequencing of irradiated materials from a bio-crime would allow quick characterization of the material,” Gibbons said. “This was one of the first questions asked during the anthrax investigation. It was motivated by the fact that the Soviet program had developed some engineered pathogens.”

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