|New Formula to Counter Chemical, Bio Attacks |
New Formula to Counter Chemical, Bio Attacks
By Gary Sheftick, Army News Service.
Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland -- (ANS) November 2, 2001) -- Researchers at the Army's Edgewood Chemical Biological Center are developing a powder with enzymes designed to neutralize nerve agents and bio threats such as anthrax.
"Just add water" to the powder and the formula will be able to decontaminate vehicles and other surfaces following a biological or chemical attack, according to Dr. Joseph DeFrank, a biological researcher who has been working on the solution for 17 years.
Last year DeFrank and the Army patented one of his enzymes -- Organo Phosphorous Acid Anhydrolase -- designed to neutralize G-type nerve agents such as sarin. DeFrank said his team is now talking with companies about possible large-scale production of the enzyme.
The Edgewood team is experimenting with about half a dozen other enzymes that DeFrank said he would like to add to the powder formulation he calls the "Edgewood Enzymatic Decon System."
One of the enzymes would neutralize the VX-type nerve agent. Another enzyme would counteract sulfur mustard, an oily chemical that became known as "mustard gas" during World War I. "It's still a real threat," DeFrank said of the mustard blister agent.
Other enzymes could neutralize biological agents such as anthrax, the plague and tularemia.
Anthrax is among the toughest bacteria to fight, DeFrank said, because it's hard to kill as a spore. But once the spores come in contact with a food source such as sugar, they begin to germinate and are then easier to eliminate, DeFrank said. So he plans to add sugar or amino acids to his powder formula in order to trick the anthrax spores into germinating.
Along with enzymes, DeFrank said his team is also experimenting with a number of plant oils, spices and herbs that might be used to counter dangerous bacteria. He said some of the common spices and herbs came into use because their ingredients helped preserve foods by killing bacteria that spoiled the foods.
So some of the herbs and spices might be useful, DeFrank said, added to his Enzymatic Decon powder.
"The goal is to have a dry powder formulation -- something like laundry detergent, with a number of enzymes in it," DeFrank said.
DeFrank's powder would be used by mixing it with any water-based application system, such as aircraft de-icing solutions, fire-fighting foam or aqueous degreasers.
In an incident where chemicals may have been released, the enzymatic solution would be used by first responders to quickly neutralize the chemicals before they have a chance to contaminate a wider area, officials said. They added that the catalytic enzymes can neutralize a wide range of chemicals, and are non-toxic, non-corrosive, environmentally safe and affordable.
And DeFrank said the enzymatic powder would not be limited to just battling terrorist attacks. He said the formula could be used by firemen to neutralize large spills of chemicals such as pesticides.
"It's not something that is just going to sit on a shelf," DeFrank said of the formula.
Edgewood is now looking to enter into licensing agreements with foam manufacturers and research and development firms to make the technology available for commercial use, officials said.
DeFrank said he believes a powder formulation with ability to neutralize some agents should be ready for commercial production in less than a year.
"Having all the multiple enzymes available will take some time longer," he said.
The Edgewood team has already produced a limited amount of the Organo Phosphorous Acid Anhydrolase enzyme in the laboratory. DeFrank said the Edgewood process engineering facility has a fermentation capacity for up to 1,000 liters -- which can generate one pound of enzyme, enough to make about 1,300 gallons of decontaminant.
A sample of the enzyme was provided a while back to the Army's Technical Escort Unit at Edgewood for use in the soldiers' backpacks of foam decontaminant, DeFrank said.
Edgewood is the Army's principal research and development center for chemical and biological defense technology, engineering and services, and is under the auspices of the U.S. Army's Soldier Biological and Chemical Command. More information on the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center can be found here.