Therefore, the committee recommends that research be supported that would lead to an improved structure-based detector. The goal of this program should be a system with very low false alarm rates and a 2-minute or less overall detection time.

Although a detect-to-warn system has its highest impact if it can initiate responses within approximately 1 minute of an attack, even response times on the order of 5 to 15 minutes can be useful. The committee finds that technologies that provide confirmation of the attack and identify the organisms involved will serve a vital function in the overall defensive architecture. Therefore, the committee recommends that research be continued on the development of an integrated, fully automated PCR system, including sample collection, preparation, and analysis.

The committee finds that while prototype instruments for standoff detection of biological agents have been developed and tested, there is no currently fielded capability for such standoff detection, nor is there a clear concept of operations for the use of such systems. Therefore, the committee recommends that a clear concept of operations be developed for standoff detection in support of base protection and, if appropriate, that the development of a hybrid infrared/ultraviolet laser-induced fluorescence system be expedited for these applications.

Technology Watch List

The committee finds that mass spectrometry has the potential to identify biological agents based on a biofingerprint matching method and has the potential to do so with limited reagent consumption. Therefore, the committee recommends that the use of laboratory mass spectrometry be investigated to better understand the performance of biofingerprinting in complex mixtures of naturally occurring microorganisms and other background contaminants. This should be done with parallel development of improved sample preparation methods.

The committee finds that the biological smoke alarm concept offers intriguing potential for rapid detection. This concept uses networked, low-cost, semiselective detectors distributed throughout the rooms in a building. Therefore, the committee recommends that research be conducted to develop and characterize the performance of low-cost arrays of semiselective sensors that can be used as a biological smoke alarm for triggering low-regret response measures.

The committee finds that ribosomal RNA assays might be capable of biothreat agent identification in one to several minutes. This approach, with a major development effort, could avoid the time-consuming amplification cycles of many nucleic acid sequencing assays. Therefore, the committee recommends that the potential and the limitations of rRNA detection for rapid identification of pathogens be explored.

The committee finds that function-based sensors are one of the few promising candidates for detecting unknown hazardous agents—that is, agents that had not been anticipated. Their response time is inherently tied to the time it takes an agent to have a physiological effect on sentinel organisms or tissues. For certain chemical agents and toxins, this effect can be very rapid, but for bacteria and viruses, it can take much longer. These longer response times for bacteria and viruses make it unlikely that function-based sensors will play a significant role in detect-to-warn applications for these agents, but they could nevertheless play a valuable detect-to-treat role in the overall biodetection architecture. Therefore, the committee recommends that studies be conducted to better understand the role of function-based sensors in overall biodetection architectures and to provide goals to focus research and development activities on those areas for which function-based sensors have the highest leverage.

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