Biological Weapons: Genetic Identification

Citation:

Lerner KL ed. Biological Weapons: Genetic Identification. Biotechnology, edited by Brenda Wilmoth Lerner and K. Lee Lerner, published by Cengage Gale. 2012.
Biological Weapons: Genetic Identification

Abstract:

The advent of molecular technologies and the application of genetic identification in clinical and forensic microbiology have greatly improved the capability of laboratories to detect and identify organisms used in biological weapons. Not only does this ability enhance national defense capabilities, but also the development and administration of countermeasures, including vaccines.

The genetic identification of microorganisms utilizes molecular technologies to evaluate specific regions of the genome and to determine the genus, species, or strain of a microorganism. This work grew out of the similar, highly successful applications in human identification using the same basic techniques. Thus, the genetic identification of microorganisms also has been referred to as microbial fingerprinting, and it is a key way in which bioinformatics can assist in the identification of pathogens….

Genetic technologies are especially useful in the detection of biological weapons. Of particular note is the polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, which uses selected enzymes to make copies of genetic material. If the genetic material is unique to the microorganism (e.g., a gene encoding a toxin), then investigators can use PCR to detect a specific microorganism from among the other organisms present in the sample. Traditional PCR detects RNA at the end point of the process (the plateau stage), however advances in the technology led to real-time PCR detection. This gave scientists the ability to collect data in the exponential growth phase, making DNA and RNA quantitation more efficient and accurate, and facilitated the development of hand-held detectors. Hand-held PCR detectors used by United Nations inspectors in Iraq during their weapons inspections efforts of 2002/2003 were sensitive enough to detect a single living Bacillus anthracis bacterium (the agent of anthrax) in an average kitchen-sized room. (more)

Last updated on 07/19/2019