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The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is the European Commission's science and knowledge service which employs scientists to carry out research in order to provide independent scientific advice and support to EU policy.
JRC scientists supported a review on the current status quo of the technology available for the detection of toxins with potential bioterrorism relevance. This work was carried out by partners of the European project EQuATox and was coordinated by the German Robert Koch Institute.
The biological toxins for which detection technology was reviewed are classified as toxins of bioterrorism risk. At the same time, they are known to cause naturally occurring intoxication. These toxins were in the focus of analysis in the proficiency tests carried out in the EQuATox project to assess the detection capabilities of laboratories. The toxins of concern are either proteins produced by plants (ricin) or bacteria (staphylococcal enterotoxins, botulinum neurotoxins), or are small molecules produced by marine dinoflagellates and freshwater cyanobacteria (saxitoxin). Most of them are well-known as causative agents for food-borne illnesses. However, all of them also have a history of military and criminal use. Consequently, these toxins are regulated substances under the Chemical Weapons Convention and/or the Biological Weapons Convention.
The review on technologies available carried out by the project partners focuses on challenges in the detection of these biological toxins (e.g. low level toxin detection in complex matrices). Moreover, it reviews the individual toxins (e.g. physico-chemical properties, toxicological aspects) and discusses trends in the analytical methods for detection, identification and quantification of the toxins of concern (e.g. immunochemical assays, mass spectrometry-based methods). Finally, it outlines a road-map for the optimisation of toxin analysis (e.g. improvement of sample preparation procedures, definition of method performance criteria, availability of suitable reagents, development of reference materials, training opportunities).
Read more in: B.G. Dorner et al.: Biological toxins of potential bioterrorism risk: "Current status of detection and identification technology", Trends Anal. Chem. 85 (2016), 89-102, doi: 10.1016/j.trac.2016.05.024