Scientists develop powerful anthrax detector

Scientists at the MESA+ research institute at the University of Twente in the Netherlands have developed a test for the presence of anthrax in concentrations a thousand times lower than at toxic level.

The new sensor works in a fashion similar to others already developed, but it does not need to be calibrated and is more sensitive than other comparable methods, reports.

The researchers at Twente hope to convert the system into a so-called “lab-on-a-chip” that will allow them to measure samples using a fully automated process. Their research will be published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

According to, the University of Twente sensor measures the existence of dipicolinic acid, the substance that accounts for between five and 15 percent of the dry weight of Bacillus anthracis spores. Spores are a dried version of the bacteria with a hard shell that makes them resistant to extremes in temperature and pressure, allowing anthrax to survive in the open air.

The sensor is basically a glass plate covered with DPA-sensitive receptors that bind on contact with anthrax spores. Fluorescence spectroscopy can then be used to calculate their concentration when exposed to ultra-violet light. DPA bonded receptors emit a blue light, with the unbonded emitting a red light. The concentration of anthrax present is the ratio of red light to blue light.