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Anthrax testing: look to NASA?

Space agency validated spore detection procedure in 1970s, but needs testing for biothreat agents

John Dudley Miller(johnmiller@nasw.org )

Although federal administrators told Congress earlier this month that they didn't find all the anthrax that contaminated post offices in 2001 because no validated testing procedure existed at the time, a NASA researcher who helped create a highly accurate procedure that the agency has used to test spacecraft for bacteria since the 1970s said there's no reason it couldn't have been used to find anthrax in 2001. Similarly, three other methods are being tested by federal agencies, all of which require validation before they can be considered reliable.

The NASA method—which was most recently used before the two Mars rovers left Earth—involves streaking a wet swab made of cotton or soft plastic over a 25-square-centimeter surface. "The NASA standard assay technique is a well defined and reproducible technique for the recovery of [bacterial] spores from solid surfaces," Larry Kirschner, a NASA researcher who did much of the 1970s work, told...

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