• New detectors for chemical, biological threats

    In the late 1990s, Sandia scientists developed a simple-to-use handheld chemical detector for the military, the MicroChemLab. Ever since, Sandia has improved such microfluidics- and microelectromechanical (MEMS) systems-based instruments that identify chemicals based on gas chromatography, or GC, and resonator-style instruments such as surface acoustic wave (SAW) detectors. The lab’s researchers are building on this sensor work to invent tiny detectors that can sniff out everything from explosives and biotoxins to smuggled humans.

  • Worries grow about Syria’s biological weapons capabilities, intentions

    The debates among experts in Western and Middle Eastern intelligence services and militaries about the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime revolve around how many times Assad has used chemical weapons, not whether such weapons were used. Neighbors of Syria have become increasingly alarmed – and, in private, have expressed their anxiety in discussions with the United States – about another illicit Syrian WMD program: biological weapons. The readiness of the Assad regime to use one proscribed weapon – chemicals — has led to growing unease among Syria’s neighbors that the regime may not find it too difficult to violate other weapon-related taboos. Biological weapons could give the Assad regime an effective means of retaliation because, if the weapon is well-designed, the lethal contents would spread easily without leaving tell-tale signs about the origin of the attack – or even evidence that there has been an attack.

  • Nanoparticles in food pose health risks

    Nanomaterials are increasingly used in water treatment, food packaging, pesticides, cosmetics, and other areas. There is a growing concern that these particles could pose a potential health risk to humans and the environment. In a new study, researchers have developed a reliable method for detecting silver nanoparticles in foods.

  • New understanding of key step in anthrax infection

    Scientists advance A new hypothesis concerning a crucial step in the anthrax infection process. The research teams have explored the behavior of the toxins that rapidly overwhelm the body as the often-fatal disease progresses. Their findings suggest a new possible mechanism by which anthrax bacteria deliver the protein molecules that poison victims. Anthrax is easily weaponized; the findings could help lead to a more effective cure.

  • Lawmakers, scientists question FBI’s investigation, conclusion in 2001 anthrax attacks

    Twelve years after the fall 2001 anthrax attacks, and six years after the 2007 FBI’s determination that Bruce Ivins, a top government anthrax researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), was the perpetrator of the attacks (Ivins died in 2008 of apparent suicide), lawmakers and USAMRIID scientists insist that the FBI’s conclusions are not supported by scientific evidence – indeed, that some basic scientific facts make the Bureau’s conclusions untenable.

  • Scientists develop safe method for research on deadly flu viruses

    In 2012, scientists around the world agreed to a worldwide, yearlong voluntary moratorium on research into the deadly H5N1 bird flu. The ban came after several scientific teams successfully altered the H5N1 viral genome to enable airborne transmission of the bird flu between ferrets — mammals considered a good research model for humans. The public health concern was that altered H5N1 could escape the lab, infect and spread among humans, producing a global pandemic. There was also concern that terrorists would use the altered H5N1 viral genome in large-scale bioterror attacks. Researchers have now been able to turn molecules in human lung cells into viral scissors that cut H5N1 bird flu and similar bugs into pieces. This dismantling of the viral genome in human lung cells will ensure safe research on deadly strains of influenza.

  • Lawmakers criticize FDA, CDC for Cyclospora outbreak foot-dragging

    Lawmakers want to know why it has taken so long for food-safety authorities to respond to the cyclospora outbreak which, so far, has sickened at least 418 people in sixteen states. They also want to know why the FDA and CDC have been tight-lipped about the specific products carrying the parasite — health authorities in Nebraska and Iowa have pointed to bagged salad containing romaine and iceberg lettuce as well as carrots and cabbage as the source – and who is the manufacturer of the contaminated products.

  • North Carolina’s biothreat warning system receives funding

    The North Carolina Bio-Preparedness Collaborative (NCB-Prepared), a project to develop an early warning system to detect biothreats, has received $3 million in funding. The goal of NCB-Prepared project is to develop a statewide system that can detect and alert health officials and first responders within hours of an outbreak indicating a bioterror attack, contagious disease or illness, food-borne illness, and other biothreats.

  • U.S., South Korea teaming up for bioterrorism exercise

    Officials from the United States and South Korea were in Seoul, South Korea last month for the third annual joint anti-bioterrorism exercise in Seoul. Around eighty U.S. officials and between 120 and 130 South Korean military officials participated in the tabletop exercise.

  • Protecting drinking water systems from deliberate contamination

    The importance of water and of water infrastructures to human health and to the running of the economy makes water systems likely targets for terrorism and CBRN (chemical, biological, and radionuclide) contamination. Reducing the vulnerability of drinking water systems to deliberate attacks is one of the major security challenges. An international project has developed a response program for rapidly restoring the use of drinking water networks following a deliberate contamination event.

  • New microfluidic chip useful in counterterrorism, water and food safety

    A new process for making a three-dimensional microstructure that can be used in the analysis of cells could prove useful in counterterrorism measures and in water and food safety concerns. Researchers developed a new microfabrication technique to develop three-dimensional microfluidic devices in polymers. Microfluidics deals with the performance, control, and treatment of fluids that are constrained in some fashion.

  • Fast, reliable identification of pathogens

    Life-threatening bacterial infections cause tens of thousands of deaths every year in North America, but current methods of culturing bacteria in the lab can take days to report the specific source of the infection, and even longer to pinpoint the right antibiotic that will clear the infection. Researchers have created an electronic chip that can analyze blood and other clinical samples for infectious bacteria with record-breaking speed.

  • Letters containing ricin sent to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, gun-control advocacy group

    Two letters sent to Mayor Michael Bloomberg – one to his office in New York, the second to the Washington, D.C. offices of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a non-profit gun-control group he has founded — contained traces of the deadly poison ricin.

  • Spokane, Wash. biolab could be closed due to budget cuts

    Just two weeks ago, law enforcement agencies credited a bioterrorism laboratory in Spokane, Washington with quickly identifying the substance in several letters mailed to people in town as ricin. These same agencies now say that the biolab could close as a result of budget cuts.

  • Smartphone turned into handheld biosensor

    Scientists and physicians in the field could soon run on-the-spot tests for environmental toxins, medical diagnostics, food safety and more with their smartphones. Researchers have developed a cradle and app for the iPhone that uses the phone’s built-in camera and processing power as a biosensor to detect toxins, proteins, bacteria, viruses, and other molecules.