How anthrax spores grow in cultured human tissues

PNNL logoNews Release

June 22, 2015 • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

by Greg Koller and Susan Bauer

New findings to help predict risk and outcomes of anthrax attacks

RICHLAND, Wash. – Cultured human lung cells infected with a benign version of anthrax spores have yielded insights into how anthrax grows and spreads in exposed people. The study, published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology, will help provide credible data for human health related to anthrax exposure and help officials better understand risks related to a potential anthrax attack.

The study also defined for the first time where the spores germinate and shows that the type of cell lines and methods of culturing affect the growth rates.

«What we’re learning will help inform the National Biological Threat Risk Assessment — a computer tool being developed by the Department of Homeland Security,» said Tim Straub, a chemical and biological scientist at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. «There is little data to estimate or predict the average number of spores needed to infect someone. By better understanding exposure thresholds, the ultimate goal is to be able to predict outcomes from terrorist incidents involving Bacillus anthracis.»

Human lung cells magnified 200 times. PNNL microbiologist Josh Powel studies how normal human lung cells react differently to anthrax spores than the cancerous cell lines typically used in research.
Human lung cells magnified 200 times. PNNL microbiologist Josh Powel studies how normal human lung cells react differently to anthrax spores than the cancerous cell lines typically used in research.

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