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New method rapidly detects potential bioterror agent

A new combination of analytical chemistry and mathematical data analysis techniques allows the rapid identification of the species, strain and infectious phase of the potential biological terrorism agent Coxiella burnetii. The bacterium causes the human disease Q fever, which can cause serious illness and even death.

Research by the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has yielded a method that proved to be 95.2 percent accurate in identifying and classifying Coxiella burnetii. The laboratory test delivers results in about five minutes compared to about two hours for the lab technique currently used to detect this bacterium.

"Because of its potential use as a bioweapon, we needed a method to detect Coxiella burnetii at an early stage, and we needed to be able to determine which strain is present so authorities can determine the geographic area from which it came," said Facundo Fernandez, an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Georgia Tech. He will present the research team's findings on Sept. 1 at the 230th American Chemical Society National Meeting in Washington, D.C.

Fernandez and his Ph.D. student Carrie Young, a chemist in the CDC's Environmental Health Lab, collaborated with CDC researchers in the National Center for Environmental Health and the National Center for Infectious Diseases. They combined mass spectrometry - an analytical technique to study ionized molecules in the gas phase and a mathematical data analysis technique called partial least squares analysis. Mass spectrometry allows researchers to look at the profiles of different proteins expressed in a microorganism. Partial least squares analysis lets researchers separate important information from "noise" or biological baseline shifts caused by sample preparation variations - that could corrupt a predictive model.

Not only is the combination of these techniques into one method a nove
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Contact: Jane M. Sanders
jane.sanders@edi.gatech.edu
404-894-2214
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News
1-Sep-2005


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