University of Northern Iowa professor fighting anthrax with spore detector system

A professor at the University of Northern Iowa and his students are using a spore detector system to determine viruses that will bind to and sometimes kill anthrax spores.

Michael Walter, an associate professor of biology, uses the Spore Detector Project in hopes that it could reduce the threat of anthrax spores and other related agents. Walter uses a control box developed by Waverly to put an air sample with bacterial viruses into the machine. The viruses then may bind to the anthrax spores, the Northern Iowan reports.

"Students work on isolating and characterizing the bacterial viruses to find ones that will work in the anti-anthrax program," Walter said, according to the Northern Iowan. "They, as of date, have about eight isolates that will bind to Bacillus anthracis. Some of the bacterial viruses will kill the bacteria, but all we're interested in is whether the bacterial viruses will bind to the anthrax spores in the detector system."

Walter has been working on the project with his students since 1998. While they use a safe strain of the bacteria in the lab, the viruses worked as hoped when tested in a biosafety level three lab in Chicago. Many of the viruses used are bacteriophages from the soil.

The next step in the project will be to design the machine to reduce issues that came up with the first working model. The redesign process will cost approximately $50,000.