The malevolent use of Anthrax spores on civilians in late 2001 has shown the necessity to protect European citizens from criminal use of biological agents and viruses. Although these attacks had been punctual and crude, more sophisticated attacks on dozens or hundreds of injured or killed people are conceivable.
When launching such an attack its success depends on concentrating a sufficient amount of pathogens in a defined area. Hence safeguarding a certain area regarding biological agents demands the detection of pathogenous bacteria, spores and viruses in various matrices (e.g. Anthrax in flour or sugar) or suspicious aerosols. This can only be accomplished by triggering a short-term alarm and its validation as well as the identification of the type of threat.
Since most of the bio sensors available are laboratory bound or require special equipment which needs training as well as experience, new systems are needed. The concept of BIO-PROTECT is the development of a fast-alert, easy-to-use device to be applied for detection and identification of airborne bacteria, spores, viruses and toxins. Its technology is based on bioaerosol detection by fluorescence, scattering and background aerosol measurement followed by ionization of air flow and analysis of the spectrum of relative speed of passage, which, in turns, enables identification of harmful biological agents. This device may also be used for controlling potential accidental release of bio-agents from biotechnology laboratories.
The work in BIO-PROTECT is structured in 4 technical Work Packages, addressing the following activities:
Development of a bio-agent detection system based on a miniaturised GC-IMS (Gas Chromatograph - Ion Mobility Spectrometry) instrument able to identify and separate extremely small amounts of a wide range of organic molecules resulting of heat-decomposed organic matter.
Integration of a particle size analyser which constantly monitors the ambient air, thus triggering a measurement if a sudden change in particle size and/or density occurs.
Improvement and integration of a continuously operating bioaerosol detector measuring fluorescence, scattering and background aerosol properties to detect presence of potentially harmful biological agents in ambient air and to trigger further identification
Research and development of a combined pre-concentration and pyrolysis unit for use with a GC-IMS, that can separate all types of bio-agents from aerosols. The target is to detect bio-agent concentrations likely to infect or intoxicate.
Development of pattern analysis software for the interpretation of the acquired spectra, thereby identifying bio-agents and distinguishing them from background bacteria.
Generation of a database with fingerprint-data of several model-agents (and their avirulent or non-toxic surrogates respectively) of bacteria, toxins and viruses. The scope of Bio-Protect includes constant extension and upgrading of the database, leading to the delivery of a marketable version with an extended scope.
Development of a control unit operated by a touch screen also displaying the discrete results and development of a PC user interface for testing and evaluation of the device.
Design of the device and integration of the components.