Navigation Links
FBI unveils science of anthrax investigation
Date:11/13/2008

They have worked for almost seven years in secret.

Most people did not know that the work in Ray Goehner's materials characterization department at Sandia National Laboratories was contributing important information to the FBI's investigation of letters containing bacillus anthracis, the spores that cause the disease anthrax. The spores were mailed in the fall of 2001 to several news media offices and to two U.S. senators. Five people were killed.

Sandia's work demonstrated to the FBI that the form of bacillus anthracis contained in those letters was not a weaponized form, a form of the bacteria prepared to disperse more readily. The possibility of a weaponized form was of great concern to investigators, says Joseph Michael, the principal investigator for the project. This information was crucial in ruling out state-sponsored terrorism.

In fall of 2001, the FBI considered how to best investigate the anthrax letters. The agency convened two blue ribbon exploratory panels, and Sandia's name came up during both panels for its expertise in electron and ion microscopies and microanalysis over the range of length scales from millimeters down to nanometers. The first spore material from the letters arrived at Sandia in February of 2002.

Sandia faced some uncertainty in working on this type of investigation. Researchers signed nondisclosure agreements and agreed to make themselves available to government agencies on short notice when called to give information.

Joseph Michael, transmission electron microscopy (TEM) lab owner Paul Kotula, and a team of roughly a dozen others examined more than 200 samples in those six and a half years. They received samples from the letter delivered to the New York Post, to former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), and to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). The samples looked different, in part because of how the samples were prepared, which made examination initially difficult.

When bacillus anthracis spores are weaponized, the spores are coated with silica nanoparticles that look almost like lint under the microscope. The "lint" makes the particles "bouncier" and less likely to clump and fall to the ground. That makes the spores more respirable and able to do more damage, says Michael. Weaponization of the spores would be an indicator of state sponsored terrorism.

"Initially, scanning electron microscopy [SEM] conducted at another laboratory, showed high silicon and oxygen signals that led them to conclude that the spores were a weaponized form, says Kotula. "The possible misinterpretation of the SEM results arose because microanalysis in the SEM is not a surface-sensitive tool," says Kotula. "Because a spore body can be 1.5 to 2 microns wide by 1 micron long, a SEM cannot localize the elemental signal from whole spore bodies."

Using more sensitive transmission electron microscopy (TEM), Kotula and Michael's research indicated that the silica in the spore samples was not added artificially, but was incorporated as a natural part of the spore formation process. "The spores we examined," Kotula says, "lacked that fuzzy outer coating that would indicate that they'd been weaponized."

Sandia's work was the first to actually link the spore material in the New York Post, the Daschle and the Leahy letters. The elemental signatures and the locations of these signatures, while not indicating intentional weaponization, did show that the spores were indistinguishable and therefore likely came from the same source. That conclusion was corroborated a few years later by the DNA studies.

The materials characterization lab serves as a materials analysis resource for a diverse collection of projects. The lab plays an important role in stockpile surveillance, supporting Sandia's nuclear weapons mission.

Michael was recently released from his nondisclosure agreement and flown to Washington, D.C., to participate in press conferences at FBI Headquarters along with several members of research teams who'd been asked to examine other aspects of the anthrax case.

The FBI was pleased with Sandia's work, says Michael.


'/>"/>

Contact: Stephanie Holinka
slholin@sandia.gov
505-284-9227
DOE/Sandia National Laboratories
Source:Eurekalert  

Related biology technology :

1. Video: Insulet Unveils Video Contest for OmniPod Users
2. BioAuthorize Holdings, Inc. Names New Directors and Executive and Unveils Modification to Its Voice Biometric Authentication Service
3. McMaster University unveils worlds most advanced microscope
4. Swedish in Seattle Unveils State-of-the-Art Brain Tumor Center Combining Advanced Treatment With Innovation in Research
5. FBI unveils science of anthrax investigation
6. MannKind Unveils Proposed Trade Name at Dedication of Danbury Manufacturing Facility
7. Touch Bionics unveils innovative partner and reimbursement programs at AOPA
8. Pharmaceutical Marketing Done Right: Archi-Tech Systems Unveils Version of Proven Analytics Solution for Campaign Management
9. Isabellas Healthy Bakery Unveils Activate - A New Probiotic Muffin Fortified with GanedenBC30 Probiotic
10. Advanced Analytical Unveils New Instrument for Rapid Microbial Identification at BIO 2008
11. Chemistry Outsourcing Conference Unveils 90-Speaker Conference Program to Take Place September 8-9 in New Jersey
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
Related Image:
FBI unveils science of anthrax investigation
(Date:2/10/2016)... BOSTON , Feb. 10, 2016  Matchbook, ... sourcing for fast growing biotech companies, announced today ... Senior Procurement Strategic Advisor. Jim brings nearly 25 ... sourcing and procurement, having spent nearly two decades ... Supply Chain/Logistics and Procurement at Genzyme and, most ...
(Date:2/10/2016)... , ... February 10, 2016 , ... ... the International Society of Pharmaceutical Engineering (ISPE) Rocky Mountain Chapter 21st Annual Vendor ... expecting to fill more than 100 tables for its annual event, which will ...
(Date:2/10/2016)... ... February 10, 2016 , ... SonaCare Medical, LLC reports ... program, Sonalink™ remote monitoring. The inaugural launch of this new technology occurred over ... Dr. Samuel Peretsman to a HIFU technical expert at SonaCare Medical headquarters. ...
(Date:2/10/2016)... ... February 10, 2016 , ... Curoverse announced today that the ... provides capabilities for managing and processing genomic and health data at petabyte scale. ... collecting and analyzing genomic data,” said Adam Berrey chief executive officer at Curoverse. ...
Breaking Biology Technology:
(Date:2/5/2016)... DUBLIN , Feb. 5, 2016 /PRNewswire/ ... the addition of the "Global Facial ... offering. --> http://www.researchandmarkets.com/research/5kvw8m/global_facial ) has ... Facial Recognition Market 2016-2020" report to ... Markets ( http://www.researchandmarkets.com/research/5kvw8m/global_facial ) has announced the ...
(Date:2/3/2016)... --> --> Fourth quarter 2015:   ... fourth quarter of 2014. Gross margin was 46% (32). ... Earnings per share increased to SEK 6.39 (loss: 0.49). Cash ... --> --> January to December ... 1,142% compared with 2014. Gross margin was 43% (31). ...
(Date:2/3/2016)... , Feb. 3, 2016 Vigilant Solutions announces ... Department in Missouri solved two ... reader (LPR) data from Vigilant Solutions. Brian ... in which the victim was walking out of a convenience store and witnessed ... next to his vehicle, striking his vehicle and leaving ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):