New Mutant Enzymes as Defense Against Terrorist Chemical Attacks?

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Home / New Mutant Enzymes as Defense Against Terrorist Chemical Attacks?

The United States Department of Homeland Security define a chemical attack as, “the spreading of toxic chemicals with the intent to do harm” – unfortunately, a real threat for our military members in overseas locations. The health impacts resulting from the spread of toxins will vary, depending on the toxicity level of the substance, the concentration of the chemical, the exposure route, and how long each individual person was exposed to the chemical. Currently, our military members’ protection against chemical attacks is limited – but now, a newly released study hopes to change this.

Researchers Dr. Dan Tawfik and his colleagues are hopeful that they have developed an injection that will help protect people against chemical attacks. With funding provided by the NIH and DOD-DTRA, Dr. Tawfik published a study today entitled, “Evolved stereoselective hydrolases for broad-spectrum G-type nerve agent detoxification” on this topic.

Chemical Attacks and Paraoxonase 1

Military personnel may benefit from Dr. Tawfix’s work. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army

Dr. Tawfix and colleagues studied an enzyme that occurs naturally in the human body, called paraoxonase 1 (PON1). Decoded Science had the opportunity to interview Dr. Tawfix about the role of PON1 in the human body.

“The naturally occurring enzyme has a range of important physiological functions, in detoxifying the products of oxidized lipids and prevention of arteriosclerosis. However, it (the natural variant, or what we call wild-type) is incapable of detoxifying nerve agents, not to a degree that confers protection. Our engineering work generated variants that can.”

According to the study, PON1 normally counteracts G-type nerve agents, but not well enough. This led Dr. Tawfix and his colleagues to introduce mutations into the PON1 enzyme to achieve improvements to its ability to prevent damage – the various mutated enzymes were then put into bacteria for testing.

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