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'Biosensor' screens Air Force personnel and equipment

RICHLAND, Wash. Air Force personnel will soon know within minutes if they or their equipment are contaminated with a biological agent, thanks to a new technology developed by the Air Force and a national laboratory.

Personnel will use the biosensor system to collect and isolate samples, detect and identify agents, and assess the seriousness of the threat.

"The system will provide an increased capability for Air Force Special Operations personnel to rapidly determine the presence of biological warfare agents in a combat environment," said Dr. Richard Stotts, counterproliferation branch chief within the Air Force Research Laboratory's Human Effectiveness Directorate. "The device is compact, quickly identifies agents, can be used repeatedly and requires very little maintenance to keep it running in the field."

The system consists of a spray, developed at the directorate's Brooks City-Base, Texas, facilities, and a hand-held "green box," which determines if agents are present. The green box, or DNA Capture Element instrument, was developed by researchers at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The box uses an Air Force-developed biochemical assay based on aptamers, or single chain DNA fragments.

"We've used our lab's expertise to develop an instrument that's complementary to the Air Force's technology and that simultaneously satis? es the speed, specificity, sensitivity, portability, durability, health and safety needs," said Mike Lind, a senior advisor at PNNL. "The rapid detection capability of this instrument will be useful in a variety of applications, even outside of the armed forces."

With the prototype system, the user sprays the suspected contaminated area, creating a sample that can be picked up by a swab. The sample material on the swab is suspended in liquid by rinsing it in a container. Once in a liquid form, the sample is injected into a special flow cell, the place where the assay
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Contact: Andrea Turner
andrea.turner@pnl.gov
509-375-3893
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
16-Jun-2005


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