Bruker Daltonics , which has been a defense contractor since the Gulf War, has a new $10 million DoD contract to supply ion trap mass spectrometers for chemical and biological defense. The systems will be used to sample air on battlefields, identify the properties of ions, and compare them to what is already known about the environment.
The instruments will be carried in the Army’s BIDS (Biological Integrated Detection System) mobile units—essentially Humvees equipped with a lightweight multipurpose shelter that carries a biological detection suite. Frank Thibodeau, who recently left his post as an operational specialist in nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare with the US Army to become Bruker’s business development manager, says the instruments are already in use in Tokyo’s subways.
The Center for Applied Genomics in Newark, NJ, and the New Jersey Medical School Center for Emerging and Reemerging Pathogens won an Army contract in September to develop microarray-based molecular diagnostics for first-, second-, and third-tier biological warfare agents. A study aims to come up with molecular signatures of host responses that are specific for individual agents that a terrorist might use. The groups will conduct expression profiling in human high-density arrays and then, once specific signatures are isolated, will design low-density arrays with the key genes involved in signature responses.
Cepheid and Environmental Technologies Group have a DoD contract to deliver hand-held biological detection devices that would provide early warning to troops and emergency response civil servants of the presence of biological weapons including anthrax. Cepheid is using its I-Core and microfluidic technologies to capture, purify, and amplify DNA.
In addition, Cepheid has supplied PCR technology for the DoD’s BIDS vehicle since 1996, and has a method for conducting five-minute sample prep for anthrax.
“There’s a fair amount of work you have to do to adapt instruments [to military use],” says COO Kurt Petersen. “They want a global positioning system built in, a rugged casing, special electronics for communication, and extended temperature ranges.”
Prototypes of its GeneXpert that Cepheid is sending to the DOD now are in black boxes. The real ones, Petersen says, will be in camouflage boxes.
Motorola has a $5 million contract under DARPA ’s Bio-flips program to develop its microfluidic Multi-Chip-Module genetic analysis sample preparation systems. Motorola scientists are collaborating with Jed Harrison from the University of Alberta and Mark Hayes of Arizona State University to develop plastic microfluidics devices that would allow experiments, including sample preparation and detection, to take place on a soldier’s wrist. DARPA’s Bio-flips program funds research aimed at developing miniaturized analytical devices.
Nanogen is in a two-year, $1.1 million contract with the US Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity to develop an arrayable electronic system for the identification of biological warfare or infectious disease agents. Nanogen says it will deliver devices, including one miniaturized system, and protocols for performing a nucleic acid amplification and hybridization approach for detection of four biological agents.
Orchid Biosciences has a three-year $4.8 million contract from DARPA’s Office of Special Technology to develop technology for microfluidic enabled DNA synthesis that could yield “significant quantities” of long oligos. The technology will contain a “micro device” that can be integrated with electronic components to form subsystems within future bioassay systems for integrated DNA analysis.
Transgenomic ’s nucleic acid fragment analysis system, called Wave, technology has been in use by various DoD contractors for more than a year. The company’s HPLC-based instrument allows for DNA separation for identification purposes.
Explains Marty Hensley, executive vice president for global sales and marketing, “Once we can take a DNA fingerprint, we can establish what agent you’re looking for. Once you have that DNA fingerprint recorded, then you can take very small samples with our device to see if a suspected body has dangerous agents in it.” In a matter of minutes, the Transgenomic instrument runs a test that would once have taken at least 24 hours.