Protection against anthrax infection increases with new irradiation research

Protection against anthrax infection increases with new irradiation research.
Protection against anthrax infection increases with new irradiation research.

Although irradiation of the anthrax virus can be a helpful way to eliminate its threat, the process can also restrict the ability to trace its strain, which would negatively impact those who may have come in contact with an active anthrax virus. 

Current research by the Army’s Edgewood Chemical Biological Center at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds recently reported that it may have found a way to complete an irradiated virus sequence, thereby identifying it.

"We used a well-characterized strain, Bacillus atrophaeus, that makes spores like anthrax, but it is nonpathogenic," Dr. Henry Gibbons, a researcher at the Chemical Biological Center, told BioPrep Watch. "We also used Yersinia pestis, a non-spore-forming bacterium that causes plague."

Gibbons explained that the study used Roche 454 sequencing platforms from vegetative cells -- so there are some differences -- but it allowed researchers to generate whole-genome sequence data.

"The full sequences were almost indistinguishable from control materials," Gibbons said. "All known mutations were found in the irradiated materials."

Gibbons explained that this particular research is important because it helps track the genome sequencing to understand how to treat a victim who has been exposed to the virus, as well as to narrow down the possible source.

When it comes to tracking the virus back to its source, Gibbons said it could be difficult, "especially since there are so many potential sources for the common lab strain, like the one used in 2001 after the 9-11 attacks. Hundreds of labs have it. In less common strains, it would clearly be easier to track."

Regardless of the challenges in finding a source after an event, this is a great leap forward in being able to discover a particular strain and how it can be combatted to stop an epidemic.

"The turn-around rate, depending on the technology one is using, from DNA sequencing to analysis, can be 48 hours," Gibbons told BioPrep Watch. This allows for a quick process to help those who may need it.

These findings were published on Nov. 13 in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, in an article titled, "Whole Genome Sequencing in Microbial Forensic Analysis of Gamma-Irradiated Microbial Materials."