March: BiodefenseCompany profile: Universal Detection Technology (UDT)

Published 24 March 2008

UDT licenses spore detection technology from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and commercializes it; UDT developed a real-time continuous detection device capable of identifying abnormal levels of bacterial spores in the air, which is signature of a possible anthrax attack

The threat of bioterrorism is real. Scientists warn that the day of mail-order toxic pathogens nears (see this HSDW story). The fear is that terrorists would have access not only to known agents, but that scientists working for terrorist organizations would soon be in a position to design new pathogens. This fear has led to a shift in the emphasis of major government efforts. To understand this shift, we need to recall that there are two components to human immunity: Innate, or general, immunity and acquired, or specific, immunity. Innate immunity involves killer cells and chemicals the body launches to fight invading germs. While the germs are held at bay, the body develops specific antibodies to mop up the infection. In theory, enhancing innate immunity means creating ways to intensify or strengthen these immune responses so the body can fend off all infections - whether from known pathogens, newly evolved ones, or artificial — as soon as they appear. In theory, this innate, or general, approach offers the promise of meeting, or mitigating, any new pathogen developed in a lab somewhere. The trouble is, it may not be anytime soon that the efforts to boost the body’s general immunity bear fruit, so scientists suggest that the government better invest its funds developing detection technologies and treatment methods for known bioterror agents (see HSDW story).

Talking about known bioterror agents, the U.S. federal government lists the following as likely or potential agents of biological terrorism:

Variola major (small pox)

Eastern equine Encephalitis

Botulinum toxin


T-2 Mycotoxins

Bacillus anthracis (anthrax)

Yersina pestis

Brucella spp

Francisella tularensis

Vibrio cholera

Coxiella burnetii (Q-fever)

Viral hemorrhagic fever

Staphylococcus Enterotoxin-B

Worries about bioterrorism in the United States and elsewhere go beyond preparing a list of possible agents which would-terrorists may use. In the past three decades there have been at least significant events showing the danger inherent in using biological agents as weapons of terror:

* In 1979 in Sverdlovsk, Russia, poor security procedure in a biological warfare facility led to the release of anthrax into the air, causing military and civilian fatalities

* In 1984 in Oregon, followers of the Rajneesh cult used Salmonella to contaminate the salad bar in a restaurant in the small town of Dalles. The purpose was to make the citizens of the city too sick to go and vote on a referendum which would have curtailed the activities of the cult in a near-by ranch. In all, 751 cases of Salmonella poisoning occurred.