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Anthrax Detector

April 13, 2006

Anthrax infections must be treated quickly, but current tests can take days to make an accurate diagnosis. Now a faster test may be on the horizon.


A new anthrax detector. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

An incredibly tiny hole is the key to how the anthrax bacterium kills, and it could also be the key to its detection and cure. An anthrax protein punches a hole in cell membranes so toxins can enter and do their dirty work. But now scientists have developed a fake membrane in the lab. Testing a blood sample for the presence of anthrax is as simple as placing a purified sample with the membrane, and then testing the membrane for the presence of tiny holes. Biophysicist John Kasianowicz is with the National Institute of Standards and Technology:

JOHN KASIANOWICZ (National Institute of Standards and Technology):
So tests that usually take a long time—several days—to show whether you’re infected with anthrax, can now in principle perhaps be done in perhaps an hour or less.

They are now working on making the system practical for use in hospitals. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.