Interface 2003

Identification of Bio-warfare Agents and Other Applications of Molecular Biology
Todd Ritter, (Idaho Technology),


Techniques in molecular biology have long been used for specific, sensitive identification of microorganisms (i.e. bacteria and viruses). Military users rely on such technology for identifying safe food, water sources, natural endemic diseases (may reduce readiness), and defense against biological warfare. The evolution of these techniques has moved the science from the lab to the broad area of real world use (e.g. military). Advancements in software, hardware and chemistry allow trained technicians to produce reference laboratory quality results in some of the most austere environments. Multi-use technologies reduce the logistics load for militaries by testing multiple samples for different organisms.

For example, in 1999, US Forces in Saudi Arabia quickly identified a Salmonella outbreak by testing various clinical, food and environmental samples. The fast and accurate identification limited the spread of the outbreak to less than 3% of the exposed force and directed health care providers towards the proper antibiotics for treatment. Additionally, such applications keep force structure safe from environmental or local health threats. Using these rapid techniques helps posture military forces for deployment to remote sites. For example, a force deploying to an area with an endemic disease may choose to test local water sources, insects, and other vectors before exposing immunologically naive personnel. This allows the appropriate measures to be taken such as choosing proper vaccinations and/or antibiotics. Such information adds a new dimension to military readiness. As a result, operations are deployed with greater cost savings and improved efficiency.

Proactively testing different infectious agents provides valuable data and insight to commanders and health officials. From a military readiness perspective, a biowarfare threat is a paramount concern. Until recently, a biological attack or induced epidemic would go undetected until large numbers of patients became ill. With the Internet and other advancements in information technology, rapid diagnostics can be used as surveillance tools. The US Air Force developed a medical/bio-warfare surveillance system called L.E.A.D.E.R. (Lightweight Epidemiology and Advanced Detection, and Emergency Response System). LEADER is a medical surveillance tool providing real-time analysis of data to identify the presence of a covert or naturally occurring bio-event. Clinical data is collected using specific medical applications and laboratory identification tools (i.e. RAPID by Idaho Technology). The data is stored and analyzed at a remote central repository. An alert generates when a pattern of symptoms indicates suspect activity.

Operationally, this system presents data from areas usually not shared in a single, unified format. This enables critical decision-making data to be placed in a command suite to provide commanders informational superiority. Ultimately, this will maintain troop readiness as a force protection tool. In summary, the LEADER system is a suite of tools that provides timely diagnostics and consultative capability in a light, highly mobile platform.

Take me back to the main conference page.