Identifying bioterrorism agents quickly and accurately is critical in the effort to prevent of limit a bioterrorist attack. Researchers at the University of Houston are tackling the problem with a grant from the Department of Homeland Security.
Hospitals check for biological agents routinely, but the search is confined to a lab or a small area. Following 9-11 and the subsequent anthrax scare federal authorities wanted to expand that model to country at large.
Richard Willson is a professor of chemical engineering and a professor of biology and biochemistry and one of three co-investigators working on the project. Identifying pathogens is possible thanks to the Genome Project.
This detection system is one that must be correct 100% of the time–there is no room for a false alarm. Willson says that means the research team is very interested in “near neighbors”
Willson says the project is lead by Yuri Fofanov, a professor of computer science and biology and biochemistry. The other co-investigator is George Fox also a professor of biology and biochemistry and an adjunct professor of chemical engineering. Their combined expertise will be used to identify the “signatures” or “fingerprints” of harmful biological agents.
The first phase of this project should take about a year and the second an additional two years.