Developing Warning System for Biological Attack Proves Difficult

October 29, 2001 | Source: New York Times

Designing early warning detectors for biological attacks has proved difficult, but developments are underway.The Army’s Joint Program Office for Biological Defense is currently testing the Joint Biological Point Detection System at Dugway Proving Grounds.

The Department of Energy is trying to use off-the-shelf technology to build a system for use in civilian areas like airports, stadiums and subways and during the Winter Olympics next February. It uses air samplers similar to those already used to monitor air pollution. They suck in air and deposit any particles on a filter or in a liquid. The particles are counted automatically; an increase is a sign that an attack has occurred.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s system draws in air and traps the particles in a liquid, which then flows past tiny beads coated with antibodies that hook onto only certain pathogens.

Vital Living Products is adapting a home test for anthrax by testing for a ommon bacteria, coliform.

Sandia, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the New Mexico Department of Health, and the University of New Mexico have developed a real-time, computerized system that may help with a diagnosis and flag unusual patterns that could indicate a bioterror attack.

DNA chips, which contain snippets of genetic code, might be able to detect virtually all pathogens based on their genetic signatures.