ECBC uses barcoded spores to improve emergency responses

Scientists at the U.S. Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center announced the use of barcoded spore technology on Monday to improve emergency preparedness in the event of a biological attack.

The researchers used Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki, a stimulant with similar properties to the anthrax-causing Bacillus anthracis, to monitor the transportation patterns of spores. By tracking the similar, but safe, stimulant, researchers will be able to gather more data that can be used to mitigate clean-up and social disruption costs in the event of a real biological attack.

"The barcoded spore technology helps us prepare for the eventuality of an attack," Henry S. Gibbons, a research microbiologist at ECBC, said. "If we get hit again with something, we will have a better sense of where to clean it up, where it is likely to go, where to focus our emergency response efforts and determine what areas are at greatest risk."

The technology integrates genetic signatures into neutral regions of the DNA of Btk for tracking. The researchers use the barcoded detection for large-scale testing that optimizes data gathering. The new technology reduces costs and enables data gathering in more populous locations such as residential suburbs and city subways.

"Better testing methods under multiple conditions can help improve our predictive models for different potential biothreat scenarios," Gibbons said. "We're hoping that we have a technology in these barcoded spores that can actually allow some testing on either mock structures or various test beds where people can do some of these modeling studies with an organism that is relatively representative of what they would find in actual virulent Bacillus anthracis."

The work by the ECBC could have a major impact on how first responders, decontamination teams and medical personnel operate during future crises.