Army Researchers Work to Rapidly Identify Biological Threats in Food, Water
CCDC Chemical Biological Center Public Affairs | September 14th, 2016
Researchers at ECBC are working on a system that will take advantage of portable analytical equipment currently on the horizon to detect food and water contaminates using the Agents of Biological Origin Identifier (ABOid) system.
Imagine several Soldiers suddenly become severely ill after eating breakfast. If there is a toxin, virus, or deadly bacteria in the food or water supply, then it needs to be identified fast! Researchers at ECBC are working on a system today that will take advantage of portable analytical equipment currently on the horizon to detect food and water contaminates in the field and provide critical lifesaving information within minutes.
There are often two factors that need to be overcome when dealing with any contamination threat—the location of samples and the wait time for results. The Agents of Biological Origin Identifier (ABOid) system could possibly eliminate these two factors. It only takes minutes for the ABOid software to identify harmful agents, while current techniques may take days.
ABOid is an algorithm that was developed by the ECBC’s Detection Spectrometry Branch in 2012. ABOid is intended to be used in conjunction with a biological mass spectrometer, a tool used to identify biological fragments in samples. As biological mass spectrometers become more readily available and soon portable, contaminants will be detected in the field in virtually no time at all.
At ECBC, keeping warfighters and civilians safe from all chemical and biological threats is paramount, including threats that could be present in things that are consumed such as food or water. Recently, the Public Health Command (PHC) partnered with ECBC’s Detection Spectrometry Branch to complete studies that demonstrated how ABOid can identify salmonella and ricin in mashed potato samples with 100 percent accuracy. This study resulted in a new patent license agreement and cooperative research and development agreement with Biodetech, LLC, to further develop how ABOid can be used in commercial food detection.
“The goal is to make ABOid available to food companies for screening in order to prevent food poisoning,” said Mary Wade Ph.D., Detection Spectrometry Branch chief at ECBC. The ECBC and Biodetech partnership will explore biological detection in more complex foods such as meats and dairy products, and will likely lead to an improved detection process of contaminants in the commercial food industry in the near future.
Now ECBC and PHC are pushing ABOid to a new realm of research with the Environmental BioSurveillance (EBS) project, where the team is using ABOid to test water samples from around the world.
“A terrorist could pollute small or large drinking water supplies,” said Wade. “ABOid could be used to quickly spot these potentially harmful agents and mitigate risks towards warfighters and civilians.”
Testing water presents new challenges when compared to testing other substances like mashed potatoes. The water samples in the EBS project have been collected from around the globe, and contain a huge variety of microbes, of which many will be un-sequenced. However, ABOid will still classify these unknown microbes. Rabih Jabbour, Ph.D., received an Outstanding Technical Achievement Award for biological detection using mass spectrometry-based proteomics in 2014 and continues to work on the ABOid projects.
The ABOid software takes the mass spectrometer data, called mass spectra signatures, and performs statistical analysis in order to provide an output of proteomics. The analysis indicates pathogens, toxicity, and organism strain levels. The ABOid database already scans for more than 2,800 bacteria, 3,600 viruses, 80 fungi and parasites, and all known toxins. If an un-sequenced microbe is detected, then ABOid will classify it and still provide valuable information.
While chemical mass spectrometers are often portable, there are currently no portable mass spectrometers for biological detection. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) is funding a project to field a portable biological mass spectrometer by 2018. A portable biological mass spectrometer partnered with ABOid could mean on-the-spot biological detection for food and environmental samples. This powerful combination of technologies would have life-saving impacts in civilian communities and on the battlefield.