Marie Curie FP7 funded Anthrax Environmental Decontamination Network (AEDnet)

Project number- PIRSES-GA-2013-612309

Project Website- https://aednetproject.wordpress.com/

Background and project objectives:

Anthrax, caused by the spore forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis, is a disease of animals which can infect humans either directly through contact with infected animals or indirectly as a consequence of bioterrorism. In regions of the world such as Eastern Europe and Central Asia the pathogen still constitutes a significant threat to human and animal health. A lack of effective veterinary facilities, access to vaccines and the burial of untreated infected animals has resulted in the contamination of large areas due to the ability of the spores to survive in soil for many years. Given that the bacteria is non-contagious its elimination from contaminated soil and surfaces would have a major impact on disease incidence.

We are seeking to develop an approach which is specific for B.anthracis and will have minimal impact on the environment. Following preliminary field trails on animal burial sites in Turkey we have developed a technique which triggers the conversion (germination) of B.anthracis spores into bacteriophage (phage) susceptible vegetative bacteria. Phages are natural predators of bacteria, are species specific and found in close proximity to their prey.

We hypothesize that a combination of germinants and B.anthracis specific phages will be an effective and ecologically friendly means of reducing spore numbers. Indeed in laboratory studies we have demonstrated the feasibility of this approach. Additional phages have been isolated from burial sites in Georgia and Turkey and will be evaluated as part of this study. While there are a number of funded phage based anthrax decon projects in the region there is as yet no dedicated scientific network to facilitate the sharing of best practices and to link researchers in neighboring countries facing similar problems. It is our intention to link these projects together in a manner which maximizes the current investment and will deliver an environmentally friendly decontamination system.

Figure 1. An electron microscopy images of a B. anthracis specific bacteriophage


Progress to date

  1. A standardised method for the isolation of B.anthracis-specific bacteriophages  has been developed.
  2. B.anthracis specific bacteriophages have been isolated from soil in Turkey, Georgia, Italy, Poland and UK  and are currently being characterised.
  3. Alanine and inosine have been identified as spore germinants and we have confirmed there efficacy in soil in Turkey and UK
  4. Anthrax spore contaminated test sites have been identified  and characterized   in Turkey and Georgia are in the process of  being identified  in Ukraine.
  5. A prototype germinant/ phage decontamination formulation has been developed and has been successfully delivered  using a spray device
  6. A standardized process for the genetic typing of B.anthracis isolates  has been agreed and we are  in the process of introducing this approach into the  laboratories at IZPSB and NCDC
  7. As a consequence of this work a new genetic typing project has been established between KAU and NCDC funded by the US Biological Engagement Program to support regional collaboration. The project will reinforce the link formed as part of this EU funded project and will provide a foundation for future joint research efforts.

Potential impact  of the project

Upon the successful completion of this  project we will have developed  a low cost,  simple, environmentally friendly decontamination  approach capable of reducing the incidence of Anthrax in rural areas of  the developing world.   This approach will also be of value to those authorities tasked with mitigating the effects of a bioterrorist attack against the people of Europe.  In addition the project will create new collaborations  which will  enhance the research capabilities of Europe and its neighbours.

Figure 2. Researchers from NCDC and KAU characterizing an anthrax contaminated animal burial site in Georgia


Contact details of Project coordinator: Prof Les Baillie, School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, College of Biomedical and Life Sciences,  Cardiff University, Redwood Building, King Edward VII Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3NB, United Kingdom Tel: +44 (0)29 208 75535, Email: baillieL@cf.ac.uk

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