Nature magazine is providing some insight into the science behind the “Amerithrax” investigation that just concluded with a self-administered judgment by the lead suspect. The journal suspects the FBI used the T5000 Biosensor System from IBIS Biosciences to identify the strain of the pathogen used in the attacks.
Immediately after the 2001 anthrax attacks, in which letters containing spores were mailed to news media offices and to members of Congress, laboratories around the United States raced to sequence the strain of Bacillus anthracis involved. It was quickly designated as the strain known as Ames, and traced back to the Fort Detrick facility. In 2003, the genome sequence of the Ames strain was published by a team led by the Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Maryland.
At the same time, investigators were looking for new methods to link the postal samples to existing virus isolates, which led them to Ibis. The T5000 works by using a mass spectrometer to measure the total mass of a sample, along with a breakdown of the number of each of the four nucleotides in the sample. The type of microbe can be identified and the nucleotides compared to known isolates, thereby specifically linking one sample to another. It has been used for emerging pathogens such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and influenza.
More from Nature: Technological advances behind the anthrax investigation.
More about the investigation from Nature‘s blog The Great Beyond..
IBIS Biosciences homepage…
Unsealed Department of Justice Amerithrax documents for your perusal…