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Weaponized Biological Health Hazard – Bacillus anthracis (new avirulent strain): USA


Published Date: 2017-06-26 14:18:19
Subject: PRO/AH/EDR> Recombinant bacillus anthracis – USA: new avirulent strain
Archive Number: 20170626.5131796

Date: Wed 21 Jun 2017
Source: Global Biodefense [edited]

The Defense Biological Product Assurance Office (DBPAO), a component of the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense, has announced the development of a Biological Select Agents and Toxins (BSAT) surrogate solution that will mitigate the risks associated with shipment and use of Bacillus anthracis.

In addition to risk mitigation for Department of Defense (DoD) stakeholders and the community at large, this product demonstrates DBPAO’s commitment to providing quality reagents to the DoD and to the biodefense community.

In 2015, former Secretary of the Army (SECARMY), John McHugh, placed a moratorium on the production, shipment, and handling of any live or inactivated BSAT or BSAT derivative at Dugway Proving Ground and subsequently extended the moratorium to all other DoD laboratories and facilities.

McHugh’s successor, former SECARMY Eric Fanning, issued Army Directive 2016-24 (Department of Defense Biological Select Agent and Toxins Biosafety Program) in July 2016, assigning responsibilities and functions of the DoD BSAT Program to the Army Surgeon General allowing the resumption of production, shipment, and handling of non-BSAT materials. Under this mandate, the DBPAO assumed the responsibility of exploring alternatives to substitute for BSAT and BSAT-related products that mitigate hazards associated with their use.

To accomplish this task, the DBPAO developed a _Bacillus anthracis_ surrogate strain named Recombinant Bacillus anthracis with Assay Targets (rBaSwAT) using a recombinant DNA approach to create a BSL-2-level genetically modified organism that will allow continuation of operations with reduced risk. The strain is built in a novel, non-virulent _Bacillus anthracis_ background and carries a comprehensive complement of anthrax specific molecular and immunological markers.

Even though rBaSwAT has the required markers to replace _Bacillus anthracis_ in operations, it remains non-virulent. rBaSwAT was developed specifically for this effort, is user specific and may not work for all end-users. However, it may be further modified with additional or alternate user-specific assay signatures to create a panel of non-virulent strains relevant to current DBPAO costumers.

These modified novel _Bacillus anthracis_ strain panels can be used as a surrogate for Bacillus anthracis by end users in a variety of applications.

Dr Shanmuga Sozhamannan, the technical coordinator of the DBPAO as well as the driving force behind the DBPAO surrogate solution, led the following team of government scientists who proved integral to the success of this solution:

Naval Medical Research Center
Contribution: Design of the construct; assay testing; spore inactivation; and final product validation.
• Dr Joan Gebhardt
• Dr Mark Munson

United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease
Contribution: Animal study and characterization.
• Dr Chris Cote
• Dr Dave Rozak
• Dr Terry Abshire

Edgewood Chemical Biological Center
Contribution: Whole genome sequencing.
• Dr Cory Bernhards
• Dr Nicole Rosenzweig
• Ms Rebecca Rossmaier
• Ms Tracey Biggs

Naval Surface Warfare Center
Contribution: Spore production and bridging studies.
• Dr Tony Buhr
• Dr Linda Beck
• Dr Andrea Staab

Food and Drug Administration
Contribution: Genetic manipulation and strain construction.
• Dr Roger Plaut
• Dr Scott Stibitz

The rBaSwAT surrogate, developed by the DBPAO, is an innovative solution that represents the future of the DBPAO’s approach to mitigate the risks associated with inactivated, virulent pathogens. A scientifically proven alternative to the use of Bacillus anthracis, this surrogate solution will provide significant hazard reduction in research, development, and testing initiatives.

In addition, surrogate use has the potential to reduce costs by eliminating the burdens associated with safely and securely shipping and using BSAT. rBaSwAT is the 1st step by the DBPAO to provide surrogate solutions for BSAT use that will reduce the costs and mitigate the risks for the DoD and all DBPAO customers. The rBaSwAT surrogate is available through the DBPAO Ordering System for Assays and Reagents (OSCAR).

Communicated by:

[As someone who studied anthrax outbreaks over many decades and when field strains could be mailed without fuss, the present maximum security preconditions are a show stopper. Hopefully this rBaSwAT surrogate and its variants will allow research to get back up into the saddle and be productive. Deep thanks to all those involved in the development of this avirulent strain. – Mod.MHJ

A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:]

See Also

Anthrax – USA (04): laboratory errors, GAO investigation report 20160929.4524933
Bacillus cereus, anthrax-like infection – USA (FL) human 20160607.4270866


Bacillus cereus, anthrax-like infection – USA (02) (X) discussion 20110816.2475
Bacillus cereus, anthrax-like infection – USA: (TX) publication 20110815.2470

A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is a program of the International Society for Infectious Diseases

Category A – Biological Weapon Agents

Category A pathogens are those organisms/biological agents that pose the highest risk to national security and public health because they can be easily disseminated or transmitted from person to person; result in high mortality rates and have the potential for major public health impact; might cause public panic and social disruption, and require special action for public health preparedness. — National Institutes of Health


Anthrax is a high-priority agent and poses a high risk to national security, it can be easily transmitted and disseminated, result in high mortality, has potential major public health impact, may cause public panic, or require special action for public health preparedness.

Bacillus anthracis (anthrax) is a non-contagious disease caused by the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis. An anthrax vaccine does exist but requires many injections for stable use. When discovered early, anthrax can be cured by administering antibiotics (such as ciprofloxacin).[11] Its first modern incidence in biological warfare were when Scandinavian “freedom fighters” supplied by the German General Staff used anthrax with unknown results against the Imperial Russian Army in Finland in 1916.[12] In 1993, the Aum Shinrikyo used anthrax in an unsuccessful attempt in Tokyo with zero fatalities.[8] Anthrax was used in a series of attacks on the offices of several United States Senators in late 2001. The anthrax was in a powder form and it was delivered by the mail.[13] Anthrax is one of the few biological agents that federal employees have been vaccinated for. The strain used in the 2001 anthrax attack was identical to the strain used by the USAMRIID.[14] -–Wikipedia

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