Apr 13, 2009
Scientists say they have developed a fast and supersensitive new test for ricin, a poison found in castor beans that scientists say is a prime candidate for use in bioterrorism attacks. The new method, described in research recently published in Analytical Chemistry, takes only three minutes to detect ricin and is 100 to 1,000 times more sensitive than tests currently available, according to study co-author Vern Schramm, a biochemist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in Bronx, N.Y.
Ricin comes from the castor bean plant Ricinus communis, which is easy and cheap to grow. Extracting the poison from the beans requires simple chromatography, a method of separating chemicals taught in college chemistry classes. If eaten, inhaled or injected into the bloodstream, ricin kills cells by interfering with their ability to manufacture proteins, which can lead to organ failure and death, Schramm explains. There is no treatment for ricin exposure, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Feb 10, 2009 | 1
The U.S. Army has halted research on most germs at the same biodefense lab fingered as the source of the deadly 2001 anthrax mailings, after discovering that some of the pathogens stored in its refrigerators and freezers aren’t listed in its database.
Col. John P. Skvorak, commander of the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick in Maryland, ordered the suspension Friday. The shutdown could last up to three months as investigators attempt to get to the bottom of the questionable inventory, and will affect "most or much" of the research projects at the lab, where government scientists study drugs and vaccines that could be used to make biological weapons, a lab spokesperson, Caree Vander Linden, tells ScientificAmerican.com. The blog ScienceInsider was the first to report the story and yesterday posted the memo from Skvorak ordering the review.
Oct 29, 2008 | 1
Worried environmentalists charge that a new biodefense lab opening in Texas next month, smack in the middle of a hurricane zone, may not be able to withstand the strongest of storms.
The Galveston National Laboratory, set to open on Nov. 11, suffered only minor flooding in its lobby while under construction during September's Hurricane Ike; most of the other buildings on the island were more heavily damaged, The New York Times reports today.
But critics say Ike, a Category 2 storm with 100-mile- (161-kilometer-) per-hour winds, may not be the toughest test faced by the lab, where scientists will study deadly, contagious viruses including Ebola and Marburg — both hemorrhagic fevers that cause victims to bleed to death. In 1900, more than 8,000 people were killed in the Galveston area by a hurricane.
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