The Pandora Report

Highlights include the BioWatch contract, H5N1 research for everyone, antibiotic-resistance and the Brits, IBM destroying biofilm, and bacteria shoes. Happy Friday!

BioWatch - baffling us all
BioWatch – baffling us all

Draft Solicitation For BioWatch Gen-3 Program Released

BioWatch is in the news again, but not for the reasons you might think. DHS has sent out feelers regarding the contract, which is expected to come in around $3.1 billion over five years. We’ll let you know when the industry date is set.

“Perhaps the largest single contract competition at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for fiscal year 2013 began Friday with the release of a draft announcement seeking support for the latest version of the BioWatch biological agent detection program. The draft request for quote (RFQ) stated that DHS will soon hold an industry day in Washington, DC, for contractors interested in bidding on the BioWatch Gen-3 Program. Preregistration will not be necessary but DHS has not yet identified a date for the industry day, the DHS Office of Procurement Operations said.”

Scientists lift moratorium on H5N1 research

We’ve spent quite a bit of time discussing the H5N1 controversy here at GMU Biodefense. The end of the moratorium, however, does not mean an immediate resumption of research – many labs are now in the difficult process of re-securing funding.

“International scientists have declared an end to a moratorium on research into mutant forms of the deadly H5N1 bird flu. Since influenza viruses are constantly changing, research is crucial, WHO’s Gregory Härtl told DW.

DW: ‘There has been this open letter in the journal Science and Nature that international scientists are going to lift their voluntary moratorium on certain research. First of all, what’s the reaction from the World Health Organization (WHO)? Is this a good or a bad thing?’

Gregory Härtl: ‘Well, certainly it’s to be expected. We convened a meeting with Dr Fouchier and Dr Kawaoka and others directly involved in this research a year ago, right at the time when this moratorium was announced. And the fact that they have desisted from doing any research on H5N1 for a year now – so twice as long as originally envisaged – has given the influenza and virology world a lot of time to sit back and look at what needs to be done in order to do this research in a surer environment and to do things that can help raise confidence all around.'”

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are a genuine threat we must all fight

The UK is taking antibiotic-resistant bacteria very seriously, to the extent that they’re considering adding it to their list of civil emergencies. Much of the problem is considered to be the “broken” market model for developing new antibiotics.

“More people died of infections than cancer in 2010. This stark fact highlights the danger from rise in antibiotic resistance in bacteria, a danger the chief medical officer warned MPs about again this week. For billions of years, certain bacteria have produced chemicals that protect them from attack by other microorganisms. Some of these chemicals make up the antibiotics used in medicine today. Unfortunately, bacteria are survival experts and have developed ways of resisting the toxic effect of these drugs. In fact, most of the resistance that is around today developed many years ago, either in the local environment, or in people and animals. Global travel is a major contributor to the increasing spread of such bacteria, exacerbating previously manageable problems of resistance.”

IBM Creates Weapon to Destroy Drug-Resistant Bacteria

IBM – International Biofilm Masher? The tech giant has developed a hydrogel which is capable to destroying biofilms while leaving human cells unharmed.

“Biofilms — groups of microorganisms that adhere to a surface — can be a real problem. When bacteria form a biofilm, it’s difficult to treat since the cells are so densely packed. But now IBM has created a new substance that can break through biofilms such as plaque and drug-resistant bacteria, killing them while not harming humans. IBM Research and the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology created a antimicrobial hydrogel — a highly absorbent substance made from synthetic polymers — that annihilates bacterial biofilms on contact. IBM claims the hydrogel is 100% efficient in destroying biofilms. The gel forms spontaneously when heated to body temperature. It’s also biodegradable and non-toxic.”

Oddball piece: Suzanne Lee’s BioCouture: Fashion Grown From Bacteria

Designer Suzanne Lee is developing jewelry and clothing made entirely of bacteria. Yes bacteria. No we’re not sure about the market for bacterial scarves, but the idea is interesting.

“I’m not creating organisms myself—I’m thinking about what functionality can we introduce genetically, with a consumer application in mind. I have various scientists I work with. I go to them and say, “How can we get this quality?” You can program the biodegradability of it: “I want this to last three months,” or three years. If you can program that in, it answers sustainability issues around massive consumption.”

In case you missed it:

– Rise of superbugs threatens antibiotic crisis
– Flu Researchers Say: Let Us Get Back To Work Studying Risky Mutations
 Country isn’t prepared for deadly flu pandemic
– Viruses That Make Zombies and Vaccines

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