EPA announces faster anthrax detection method

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has released a revised report on what is believes to be a faster method for detecting spores of Bacillus anthracis, also known as anthrax, in samples pulled from the environment.

If successful, this new method will help decontamination teams to ensure successful decontamination after an anthrax attack. While the current method of testing only permits 30 to 40 samples per day with several days needed to report results, the new method may be able to test hundreds of samples per day, according to CIDRAP News.

This new method, called rapid-viability polymerase chain reaction, uses commercial automation combined with 96-well real-time PCR to examine the samples with high-throughput sample processing. RV-PCR uses magnetic beads to extract DNA before PCR analysis. It can detect as few as 10 spores in air filter, water and surface samples.

RV-PCR may be able to reduce the total analysis time for an initial batch consisting of 24 samples from 24 hours down to 15 hours, CIDRAP News reports. It can also be ready for an additional batch only three to four hours later.

The method was developed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory at the Department of Energy and the National Homeland Security Research Center. The need for a speedier method was highlighted by the 2001 anthrax attacks in which much delayed, lengthy clearance sampling and analysis was needed before re-opening facilities.