"Anthrax is the most efficient biowarfare agent. Its spores are stable and easy to produce, and once someone inhales them, there is only a 48-hour window when antibiotics can be used," says Fischetti. "We've found a new protein that could both potentially expand that treatment window and be used as a large-scale decontaminant of anthrax spores." Because anthrax spores are resistant to most of the chemicals that emergency workers rely on to sterilize contaminated areas, a solution based on the protein would be a powerful tool for cleaning up after an anthrax attack.
All bacteria, anthrax included, have natural predators called bacteriophage. Just as viruses infect people, bacteriophage infect bacteria, reproduce, and then kill their host cell by bursting out to find their next target. The bacteriophage use special proteins, called lysins, to bore holes in the bacteria, causing them to literally explode. Fischetti and colleagues identified one of these lysins, called PlyG, in 2004, and showed that it could be used to help treat animals and humans infected by anthrax. Now, they have identified a second lysin, which they have named PlyPH, with special properties that make it not only a good therapeutic agent, but also useful for large-scale decontamination of areas like buildings and military equipment.
The new protein has several advantages. Most lysins, including PlyG, are only active