Researchers develop system to detect biowarfare agents on navy ships

NEW YORK An Ohio State University professor is part of a team that developed a new protocol that the U.S. Navy now uses to detect biowarfare (BW) agents, such as anthrax, aboard its ships.

"Until mid-2002, the only equipment to detect biological agents that warships had were the sailors themselves," said Michael Boehm, an associate professor of plant pathology at Ohio State and a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve.

"The military was ill-prepared to deal with what might happen if a 37-cent letter filled with anthrax or smallpox was opened on a ship at sea."

Boehm was called to active duty shortly after September 11, 2001, to help the Navy develop an inclusive biowarfare agent detection program. In late 2001, he headed for the Naval Medical Research Center's Biological Defense Research Directorate (BDRD) in Silver Spring, Md. Boehm's active duty stint ended in February 2003, and he returned to Ohio State.

He and his colleagues at BDRD developed, implemented and trained Navy personnel in how to sample, test and respond to possible biowarfare attacks by agents such as anthrax and smallpox that, this past spring, the Navy adopted as a standard operating procedure for detecting the presence of BW agents. According to Boehm, the plan can be used anywhere there's a suspected BW incident.

Boehm shared his experience in designing the protocol on September 9 at the meeting of the American Chemical Society in New York City. Co-presenters, all with the Naval Medical Research Center's Biological Defense Research Directorate, included Al Mateczun, Darrell Galloway, Robert Bull, Joan Gebhardt, Timothy Stello and Richard Gotautas.

The researchers devised a three-tiered biowarfare agent detection system:

Level 1 presumptive. Armed with portable hand-held assays, which look and function like home pregnancy test kits, trained personnel can determine within 15 minutes to an hour whether or not a suspected BW agent has

Contact: Michael Boehm
Ohio State University

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