Pathogenomic Tools Microarrays in the Diagnosis of Microbiologic Agents as Bioweapons

There is increasing concern within both the scientific and security communities that the ongoing revolution in biology has great potential to be misused in offensive biological weapons programs [75-77]. Interdisciplinary and international efforts to increase the monitoring, surveillance, identification, and reporting of disease agents and to better understand the potential dynamics of disease transmission within human and animal populations in both industrialized and developing country settings will greatly enhance our ability to combat the effects ofbio-weapons and emerging diseases on biological communities and biodiversity [14, 15, 78-80].

Current approaches in the detection and differentiation of bioweapons are directed towards the developing of biodefense microarrays that can detect hundreds of top-priority bacterial and viral biological agents, such as anthrax, plague, and smallpox. The new generation of biodefense microarray tests is expected to offer researchers the quickest, most comprehensive single test. Earlier DNA tests required a time-consuming approach, testing for one pathogen at a time. Traditional test methods, which include growing a culture of the bacteria and then identifying it by sight, can overlook genetically engineered organisms expressing unusual toxins or antibiotic resistance. The new arrays are expected to work in as little as 4 h and offer three advantages:

1. The biodefense array will present a comprehensive, singlestep test to simultaneously identify genetic fingerprints for 26 different bacterial species, 10 viral species, hundreds of their subspecies selected from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) high-priority pathogen list, and 56 different toxic genes from bacteria. As a result, this array could replace dozens of existing tests. It could even detect an attack where multiple pathogens are used, something current methods may not detect.

2. The novel biodefense arrays are able to detect DNA from pathogens that have been inserted into apparently harmless bacteria, which traditional pathogen identification methods could miss.

3. The new generation of biodefense array will detect whether or not genes that make organisms resistant to antibiotics have been inserted into a pathogen by simultaneously testing for 62 different antibiotic resistance genes. Such a multi-drug-resistant phenotype has been described in a wildtype isolate of Yersinia pestis [81]. If an antibiotic resistance gene goes undetected, physicians could end up treating patients with medication that simply wouldn't work. Using current methods, researchers have to test for every antibiotic resistance gene one at a time, a slow and cumbersome process.

While effective biodefense utilizes a variety of tactical tools, microarray technology is a valuable arrow in that quiver [82].

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