Researchers are looking for new ways to fight chemical weapons, including an enzyme made from squid


Photo Credit: Jeremy Smith    

Photo Credit: Jeremy Smith



Recent political threats against chemical weapons haven't exactly been effective, so a team of researchers at the University of Tennessee are working on a different way to avoid such a crisis. According to Ozy, they are using quantum and molecular mechanics to create an enzyme that neutralize deadly nerve agents. Basically, it would immunize people against chemical warfare.

More specifically, the team is hoping to disable sarin, which is one of the most deadly chemical weapons. These weapons work by causing the heart and respiratory muscles to spasm by disrupting nerve cells. People can die within just minutes of inhaling sarin. So, even though antioxidants exist, doctors usually can't reach patients in time. Preventative drugs would counteract this issue.

Professor Jeremy Smith led the team, who is working with enzymes called bioscavengers that are found in the bodies of squids. The gene was discovered years ago in European squid. Now, scientists are developing the enzyme recombinantly with bacteria. This ensures they do not have to use any other squid in their research.

Thanks to other advancements in technology, the researchers are able to simulate the enzymes on a computer because they are too small to see otherwise. They use this method to determine shapes and calculate the reaction caused by the bioscavenger. This helps to reduce risk and increase the likeliness of success during clinical testing (which is still years away).

The team used a three-dimensional striation of a candidate bioscavenger that was gathered during previous X-rays and neutron crystallography.

“We were able to use that structure as a starting point for our computations to figure out how the enzyme breaks sarin up chemically,” Smith said.

The be successful, the enzyme would need to work quickly enough so that it could counteract exposure to sarin and respond to different nerve agents, without destabilizing the immune system.