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Blog posts tagged with 'biotechnology'

Sinking Teeth Into The Mysteries of Plague

Two plague victims in Aschheim-Bajuwarenring cemetery in Bavaria, Germany who died some 1500 years ago have been unearthed and are able to help provide an international team of scientists with a better understanding the type of virus that was responsible for their deaths sometime between 541 and 543. Thanks to the dental remains of these two unearthed plague victims, researchers using very sophisticated methods were able to extract DNA fragments of plague from the teeth from the skeletal remains and reconstruct the genome of what is now the oldest pathogen obtained to date. Yersinia Pestis or Y. Pestis is also known as plague. This bacterium was found to be responsible for the Justinian outbreak and the results showed that this was unique and distinct from various other strains that would later become the Black Death and other plague pandemics that would follow.

“This study raises intriguing questions about why a pathogen that was both so successful and so deadly suddenly died out. One testable possibility is that human populations evolved to become less susceptible,” says Edward Holmes, an NHMRC Australia Fellow at the University of Sydney.

Up until now little has been known about the exact cause of the Justinian epidemic’s origins or cause. The Justinian plague is thought to have been instrumental in bringing about the end of the Roman Empire and was, until the recent findings were too discover, responsible for the Black Death. The Justinian Plague is believed to have killed 30 to 50 million people, estimated to have been at least half of the world’s population at that time. Later the Black Death would emerge to ravage the medieval population killing 50 million Europeans between 1347 and 1351 some 800 years later. These recent findings now show that the Justinian plague was a unrelated strain from the plague that caused the Black Death.

The new results that are published in online edition of The Lancet Infectious Disease, show that the Justinian Plague was a distinct and separate genome of the same Pathogen know as Yersinia Pestis and not an evolutionary forefather or related to the same Yersinia Pestis strains responsible for the Black Death. Another pandemic that had taken hold in Hong Kong and spread across the globe is now more likely to be considered the precursor to the Black Death.

These findings would suggest that the Justinian pandemic strain also originated in Asia and not in Africa as some scientist originally thought. This would lead them to theorize that earlier epidemics, such as the Plague of Athens (430 BC) and the Antoine Plague (165 – 180 AD) may have also been unique and distinct emergence of related Yersinia Pestis strains.

“We know the bacterium Y. Pestis has jumped from rodents into humans throughout history and rodent reservoirs of plague still exist today in many parts of the world. If the Justinian plague could erupt in the human population, cause a massive pandemic, and then die out, it suggest it could happen again. Fortunately we now have antibiotics that could be used to effectively treat plague, which lessens the chances of another large scale human pandemic” says Dave Wagner, an associate professor in the Center for Microbial Genetics and Genomics at Northern Arizona University.

These studies would suggest that the threat of an outbreak of Yersinia Pestis can occur at any time now, or in the future, is quite possible. Add to this, the possibility of some individual or person intent to using the pathogen as a weapon to wreck terror on an unsuspecting population raises the stakes even higher. New technologies are now available to health and safety teams in the early detection of such possible natural outbreaks and first responders now have the capabilities to be able to equip themselves with the latest tools required to easily and reliably detect not only Yersinia Pestis, but other possible pathogens that could be used as weapons against humanity. This ability to provide early detection is essential in containing and maintaining control of a terrorist planned outbreak and is crucial to preventing another full scale global population pandemic such as those seen in the past.

One of the biggest breakthroughs in rapid and reliable early detection of pathogens that can be utilized against terrorist is the BADD line of bio-warfare detection tests produced by AdVnt Biotechnologies LLC. Developed in response to the white powder incidents that occurred after 9/11, the tests were used in the detection of bio-warfare pathogens during the Iraq War. This line of tests gave first responders the ability to arrive at a possible bio-threat scene and test for powders and liquids left by suspected terrorist and ascertain within 15-minutes or less if the material held the potential of becoming a cause of wide spread contamination. This rapid testing with their on-the-scene detection capabilities helped to open windows of opportunities for immediate containment and control of a possible pandemic. AdVnt Biotechnologies was also the first to revolutionize the hand held assays when they were the first to develop a testing platform that allows for the collection of one suspicious sample of unknown origin to be tested against multiple targets on one detection test cassette. In the not too distant past, responders would have to collect up to 5 samples and run 5 tests one at a time to discover what active agent provided the danger of contamination. If there was very little or sparse material left behind, the residue would have to be sent off site to be examined while the clock was ticking. With the invention of AdVnt Biotechnologies ground breaking PS-5T Pro-Strip multi-agent rapid screening system, for the first time, responders have the ability to hit five different targets from one collected bio-threat sample. Saving time, saving resources, saving lives.

History of Biowarfare Part III - Now For Something Completely Horrific

From a historical perspective, anthrax is probably the most widely used bio-threat known to humans. Some scholars now believe it to be the nasty soot “morain”, spoken of in the book of Exodus and may also be considered a likely candidate for the “burning wind of plague” that begins Homer’s Illad. Anthropologists have recently determined that Yersina Pestis is without a doubt the plague virus behind the Black Death. If these accusations are correct then its’ safe to say anthrax might be the most well recorded bio-threat to date.

As a weapon, anthrax lives up to its reputation. Those infected with the substance will develop ulcerative puss filled lesions; severe respiratory infections and death within two to three days in most cases. The victims also become infectious to those close to them allowing this nasty toxin to spread like wildfire. Anthrax is a bacterium and can become dormant in the ground in a spore type state for long periods of time before springing back to life and re-infecting all over again. In this regard it is not much different then a mold or fungus.

The use of anthrax bacteria in ancient military campaigns as been recorded going back to biblical times. Some barbarians stooped so low as to use the diseased bodies of its’ victims to poison wells and food supplies, and even to catapult them over the walls of fortified cities under siege. In this century combatants on all sides of conflict carried out the military use of anthrax during World War I. By the time we get to World War II, biowarfare becomes actively financed by government officials who, taking a lesson from history, begin to seek out more advanced ways to exploit deadly toxin and other forms of bio-threats inert potency. Reports are said to prove that allied efforts in Canada, the United States, and Britain sought to develop anthrax-based weapons against Germany, but apparently this was never fully realized.

The growing concern for a substance like anthrax being used on heavily populated areas today is nothing to be taken with a grain of salt. When United Nations inspector’s toured Iraq’s bio-weapons facilities after the Gulf War, they discovered, according to some sources, that the Iraqi’s reportedly had produced up to 10,000 liters of bio-weapons grade anthrax, though some dispute this claim. But a sobering reality of the potential of an attack surfaced when the Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo, the same peace-loving group who was responsible for releasing Sarin gas in the Tokyo Subway system, was later discovered to have been close to developing anthrax-based weapons. This group was seeking nothing less then total world domination. Yes, you read that correctly … “Total World Domination“.

After the anthrax attack that followed five days after 9/11, killing five people and infecting 17 others, it became apparent that the best way for a nation to defend itself from such threats was to create a level of preparedness that would limit the impact of this type of terrorist tactic or eliminate the threat completely. It was then determined that one of the most important factors in limiting this kind of damage by such a heinous act would be in the timing that it would take to identify the what type of biological threats were involved. This information would allow first responders to make rapid and reliable decisions that could mean the difference between saving millions of lives vs. the unthinkable horror of a wide spread plague that could devastate vast numbers of a population. The solution to this dilemma of rapid detection and response would be found in the science of biotechnology.

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In order for first responders to know what bio-threat was being presented to them upon receiving that first call to quickly contain the situation, they would require some sort of device that could identify the biological threat as close to the moment of it’s first outbreak as possible. Up until 9/11 no such device existed that could adequately be labeled as rapid detection. The answer to this problem would come in the form of a device known as a chromatographic immunoassay, also known as a hand held assay (HHA). One of the first and best of this kind of test to hit the market was called the BADD single detection test, this test would then later evolve into a multi-threat detection test called the Pro-Strip, allowing for the first time, one test that would give a first responder the ability to read up to 5 threats (Anthrax, Botulinum, Plague, Ricin and SEB toxins) with just one revolutionary device. Created by researches at AdVnt Biotechnologies in Phoenix AZ. these two devices are still being used by military, first response teams and CBRNE teams worldwide due in large part to the consistent reliability, ease of use and cost effective dependability.

As horrific as it must have been to be on the receiving end of bio-terrorism in times past, new, current technologies now exist today that was not available during the times past. With the threat of biological attacks growing more realistic, the likelihood that a highly trained and prepared first response team will have the capabilities to move in quickly, ascertain the situation with rapid, reliable knowledge of the threat involved, downgrade the event from the potential wide spread catastrophe to a much limited and highly contained incident is far more plausible now then at any time in the history of the world.

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BIOTERRORISM AND THE FUTURE OF OUR FOOD SUPPLY.

(Editor’s note re-printed from Homeland Security Newswire)

The state of public health and biodefense

Published 7 September 2009

There are two bookends to U.S. concern with bioterror attacks on the United States: the fall 2001 anthrax-by-mail attacks, and the December 2007 report by a blue-ribbon commission, headed by former senators Bob Graham of Florida and Jim Talent of Missouri, asserting that of all the weapons of mass destruction, terrorists would likely use biological weapons against the United States because these weapons are easier to produce and deliver than nuclear weapons, and much deadlier than chemical weapons.

The Bush administration did not wait for the commission’s report to allocate $5 billion to its BioShield project, which distributes money to companies engaged in research and development of vaccines and treatments to counter bioterror attacks.

The interest in food safety is a more recent phenomenon, reflecting growing worries about the side effects of globalization. More and more food items – and ingredients used in food items — are imported into the United States. Trouble is, many of the countries from which these items are imported have much lower health and safety standards than the United States does – and often, even if health and safety measures are on the books, endemic corruption in many of these countries guarantees that these standards are not enforced.

What exacerbated the problem was the Bush administration’s cuts in the budget of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), making the agency’s already difficult inspection task nearly impossible. These two conflicting trends – a steady increase in the importation of food and food ingredients into the United States, and a steady decline since 2001 in the budget and inspection personnel of the FDA – combined to create an explosion of food recalls in 2007 and 2008, prompting Congress to consider much tougher food inspection regime, but also prompting the industry and individual companies to formulate their own tougher policies of health and safety standards.

Just as the growing awareness of bioterrorism has been beneficial to many biotechnology companies – especially start ups – so has the awareness of the need for more effective food safety regime. Thus, according to BCC research, the U.S. food safety testing market value increased from $2.0 billion in 2006 to about $2.1 billion in 2007, and it should reach $2.8 billion by 2012, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.8 percent. The growth rate reflects demand for pathogen testing, where implementation of standard hygiene practices and a stringent regulatory environment has slowed the incidence of microbial infections.

The research form says that the potency of toxins should propel testing for contaminants from a $78 million market in 2007 to a $135 million market in 2012, a CAGR of 11.6 percent.

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