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Real-time detection of pathogens in the environment: How close are we?

Stopping outbreaks--whether caused by biological warfare or a salmonella-contaminated salad bar--would be much easier if we could quickly detect the pathogens in real time.

But real-time analysis isn't possible just yet, said molecular microbiologist Deborah Newby, of the U.S. Department of Energy's Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory. Even the very best of today's detection technologies require at least a 15-minute wait for each batch of samples.

Newby, whose research at the INEEL supports DOE's national security mission, will present a review of pathogen detection techniques at Wednesday's American Society for Microbiologists annual meeting in Washington, D.C. . The colloquium is 293, titled (Re)emerging Biothreats and Protection of Public Health: State of the Art Sampling, Detection and Remediation of Pathogens in the Environment.

"Most of the science for pathogen detection has been driven by the military because they've had the dollars and the need," Newby said. But world events over the past couple of years have heightened the risk awareness of outbreaks in both the public and the government. Whether an outbreak is natural or intentional, the impact on the public and environment can be devastating.

During 2001, 22 people in the United States were diagnosed with anthrax transmitted through the mail. Five people died. This kind of attack took the country by surprise and challenged the nation's ability to respond. The Laboratory Response Network (a network of labs that can perform analyses during an emergency) was inundated with 2,500 suspected anthrax samples to analyze from 46 states, and the Centers for Disease control responded to 8,860 calls between Oct. 8 and Oct. 31, 2001. Ultimately, more than 32,000 people were advised to take Cipro (trademark for the drug ciprofloxacin) as a precaution against the disease. The need for better and faster pathogen detection techniques is clear.

The challenge in de
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Contact: Deborah Hill
dahill@inel.gov
208-526-4723
DOE/Idaho National Laboratory
21-May-2003


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