As the 190th day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine approaches, Western nations and unbiased observers are still warning that Russia’s military may start deploying chemical weapons in addition to randomly attacking cities.
The Kremlin has denied using chemical weapons. But this kind of attack has been linked to the Russian government for the past 20 years.
Many analysts fear that the Russian military will use chemical weapons in Ukraine but if it does how the world would know if it did?
A team of Rutgers scientists have created a synthetic protein that swiftly detects molecules of a lethal nerve agent that the UN has designated as a weapon of mass destruction and might be used in a chemical warfare attack.
Scientists say that this could lead to a new generation of biosensors and treatments that could be used to fight the chemical warfare agent VX.
As stated in Science Advances, the scientists generated the protein using high-speed computers and a special design in Rutgers facilities.
“We’ve made an artificial protein,” as explained by Virak Nanda, one of the authors of the paper, “that binds a chemical target — in this case, the VX nerve agent.
The authors “wanted to design it to generate a signal that could be coupled to a device, making a biosensor for chemical weapons. And we’ve been able to achieve that.”
VX is the most lethal and quickly acting of all the known chemical warfare agents. It has no taste or odor and was created by humans. It functions by assaulting the neurological system, resulting in muscle paralysis and rapid asphyxial death. Countries are prohibited from keeping VX on hand since it is categorized as a weapon of mass destruction. But countries can keep small amounts to use for research.
The researchers at Rutgers constructed the protein’s cavity to match the precise shape and chemical composition of VX. The Rutgers design was used by collaborators at the City College of New York to create a real protein, purify it, and ship the sample overnight on ice to MRIGlobal in Kansas City, Missouri, a laboratory authorized to test chemical weapons. Within 24 hours, the protein was tested against VX there.
“The protein underwent a dramatic shape change, burying VX in the cavity we designed,” explained Nanda.
“This shape change,” according to the author, “is the signal which could be coupled to a sensor device.”
The protein, according to Nanda, is a thousand times more sensitive than current technology at detecting VX. Additionally, the protein doesn’t cause false positives, which happen when modern sensors mistakenly detect chemicals that aren’t nerve agents but are similar, like some pesticides.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website claims that VX or other nerve agents may have been used in chemical warfare during the 1980s Iran-Iraq War. Experts on chemical weapons claim that they have also been employed recently in assassinations and wars. Although there are VX antidotes, it is best to administer them as soon as possible after exposure.
The development of a new generation of biosensors, treatments, and diagnostics should be possible thanks to the design technique outlined here, according to Nanda.
Image Credit: Getty
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