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FDA Prepares Faster Biological Agent Test

Global Security Newswire

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it is preparing a technique that would significantly reduce the time and expense needed to identify a biological agent used in an act of terrorism, the Center for Disease Research and Policy reported Friday (see GSN, Oct. 5, 2005).

Mass spectrometry would be used to determine the species and strain of bacteria, or whether the material is a harmless substance such as flour or cornstarch, according to an FDA release.

“The testing process works in a way similar to the FBI’s fingerprint library for criminals,” the agency said. “A researcher can take patterns generated by a mass spectrometer’s analysis of a substance to be identified and compare them to a database of known substances, for immediate recognition.”

Existing tests using DNA amplification can take 24 hours to produce results, at a cost of $15 to $50 per sample. The new system requires up to eight hours to prepare a sample, but only seven minutes for testing at a cost of $2 per sample, CIDRAP reported.

“We hope to see the testing put into place by government and industry in the near future,” said Jon Wilkes, lead author of a FDA report on the new technique, in the press release (Center for Disease Research and Policy release, Aug. 4).