Antrax Question.

Discussion in 'Biology & Genetics' started by thecurly1, Oct 28, 2001.

  1. thecurly1 Registered Senior Member

    Could Antrax be living in the enviroments that we have been testing, for months or years before the letters?

    What I'm saying is that a lot of places that the gov't has checked have come up positive with Antrhax, but there have been no new letters. Plus I doubt that spores have jumped from one envelope, to those only adressed to important places. Is it possible that we are finding organisms that have occured naturally, but not tested for before?

    Maybe not all of the detections aren't actually terrorsts.
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  3. FlowerPower Registered Member

    I’ve been wondering the same thing-

    It's not likely that anthrax could be "living" in these environments. From my understanding, anthrax will only thrive in moist, warm environment with plenty of stuff to eat (I work with viruses, not Bacteria, so I don't have vast knowledge on the subject). This is why it likes the lungs and bloodstream. When the organism finds that it's environment isn't so warm, moist or nutrient rich enough to live, it will start forming spores, and the spores can survive for long periods (years upon years) in the absence of water and nutrients. This is because the spores are not really "living". They are in a dormant state, waiting to enter a suitable environment to "wake up".

    So it is possible that anthrax spores have been hanging out in these places where they are being found now. I guess that the best way to test for anthrax spores is to swab an area and then run the swab over a nutrient rich agarose petri dish- one that will support the growth of anthrax and repress the growth of other bacteria. In this sort of test, just a single viable anthrax spore will form a colony on the petri dish and one could confirm the presence of anthrax. Studies indicate that it takes inhalation of over 5000 viable anthrax spores to produce lethal disease in 50% of exposed individuals, so the presence of single anthrax spores would surely go unnoticed until someone specifically looked for them.

    That's thing about microbes- you will never know they are there unless you search for them.

    So even though it is possible, I guess that if the experts are saying that the anthrax found in mailrooms is due to terrorist release I believe them. I worked for the CDC for a number of years and I know for a fact that they have the best surveillance know-how in the world. I assume that the top people studying this have made careers on studying anthrax, and aren’t exactly rushing to judgment on a topic they know little about.
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  5. kmguru Staff Member

    If the damage was/is caused by one person, you could conclude that there may be some left over spores by other means in another times. But if it was done by a group, then they usually work in several cells. Just 3 cells acting a very small test can create all kinds of positive signs all over the place. Consider this:

    3 people, somehow got the stuff from Pakistan (via Iraq). They might have received the stuff double packed in mail from overseas. Small quantities may have leaked out. Then the matter of handling the package that could have also caused some leakage. Then, sending the mail itself will cause them to spill on those high speed machines USPS uses. Lucky for us, that the total amount is low enough to be contained. It is extremely difficult to stop such attacks. It is more for terror value than actual death in numbers. The best solution is to eliminate those sites which generates or stores the product and hold the people resonsible at the origin. Without a state support, this is difficult to do in a makeshift tent.

    In the meantime, USPS should irradiate all packages coming into our country from Pakistan, Saudi, Egypt, Syria etc -

    I have a question for FlowerPower: Can viruses be killed (such as ebola, smallpox etc through irradiation machine (gamma radiation) ?

    I am for all supermarket fruits, meats, milk and vegetables to go through irradiation system.
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  7. FlowerPower Registered Member



    At the "heart" of the virus replication scheme lies DNA (or RNA for some viruses like HIV). Irradiation "kills" organisms by inducing random lethal mutations into DNA or RNA. The radiation source is not limited to gamma waves- X-rays and UV are also useful. UV light causes skin cancer in the same way- it induces random mutations in DNA that lead to tumors. The reason the USPS isn't considering using UV for treating mail is that it (unlike gamma or x-ray) will not penetrate packages.

    And as a side note, it is not correct to say that viruses are killed. Viruses are not condidered to be alive because they do not have any active metabolism outside of the host cell.

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  8. kmguru Staff Member

    Thank you FP

    Does that mean that such random mutations in the virus (or bacteria) could create more dangerous viruses upon receiving a dose of radiation? My reasoning is that (from a layman POV) if viruses are a collection of carbon, hydrogen and other molecules to look like a protein/chemical fragment, then losing or gaining a few electrons here and there could create a new bio-chemical part that can potentially cause disasters once inside a living cell. Or is that a remote chance?

    What the spore is made out of? Can we develop a custom protein/enzyme that fits like a key and lock to the spores, so that, they can be flushed. If viruses do not have metabolism, why can not we develop similar flushing enzymes that practically disolves or suspends viruses?

    just some dumb questions...from a lay person...dont laugh...
  9. FlowerPower Registered Member

    This is what I love about biology. It’s a science that seems infinitely complex, yet it’s simplicity sometimes glares. Your question above describes exactly what the immune system does to protect from marauding parasites. When you are infected with something (a virus or bacteria etc..), the immune system “designs” antibodies that are specific for that particular pathogen. An antibody is just a protein that has a perfect affinity for a pathogen. It fits just like a key and prevents the pathogen from infecting. It is important that you are aware of the scale of these things: If a bacteria were the size of your house, the antibody would be the size of your door handle (approximately). SO it’s not just one of the antibodies that protects, but many of them. And they are very specific for just certain parts of the bacteria. The most effective antibodies bind to proteins that are expressed on the surface of the bacteria, proteins that serve to adhere to your own cells. If these adhesion proteins are all bound with antibodies, then it can’t bind, and it can’t infect- case closed.

    Viruses are much smaller than bacteria. If the virus was the size of your car, the antibody could be the size of the hub cap (again approximately, and depending on what particular virus)

    So the answer to your question is: yes it is possible, and those custom proteins are called antibodies. There are two ways of developing them:

    1)Vaccinate! (Preferred) A vaccine primes your immune system to create antibodies that will give you protection.

    2)Horses! (Not preferred) You could get yourself a horse and vaccinate it repeatedly. The horse would develop a very high titer (this means that it would be teeming with specific antibodies). Then you could harvest the horse’s blood (Just a liter at a time- remember that the horse needs it’s blood just like you need yours) and purify the antibodies with affinity chromatography. Then you could inject purified horses antibodies every time you thought you were exposed to something. Of course, after a while you would develop an immunity to horse antibodies and they would be swept out of your bloodstream as fast as you could inject them. This all might sound crazy, but this is exactly how snake bite anti-venom is produced. The horses are injected with very small quantities of the snake venom and over time they are injected with more and more until they have a robust immunity. The antibodies are purified and sold as anti-venom. The problem with this route is that the prophylaxis lasts a very short time.

    It’s possible that small amounts of radiation could cause mutations leading to increased pathogenesis or resistance to treatment, but the majority of random mutations are lethal to the organism. More importantly, the amount of radiation used to sterilize a pathogen is so great that lethal mutations will always be introduced. If you believe in evolution you could say that random mutation has been the driving force behind all evolutionary change, and it is likely that radiation was the cause of many of those mutations. This means that we are all radiation mutants...

    And there are no dumb questions…
  10. kmguru Staff Member

    Thank you so much FP for the explanation. I have another question though. Can we make antibodies or specific proteins for the most virulent pathogens in a laboratory and inject them to patients so that they will flush out the pathogens? Of course the protein should be made such that the patient's own body will not attack the chemical.

    For example chemicals such as lactoperoxidase, lysozyme, lactoferrin, glucose oxidase seem to work to keep the bacteria colony in check in the mouth. So, may be similar chemicals for the blood or pulmonary system?

    Just a thought...

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