Light is proving to be a powerful defensive weapon in biological warfare – the deliberate infection of others with deadly germs. Researchers know that germs, including those used as bioweapons, are susceptible to damage from ultraviolet light and they’ve developed ways to exploit this vulnerability. Here they make use of a substance found in figs (pictured, red), which attaches to germ DNA (green, purple and orange in this model). After exposure to ultraviolet light (right hand image) the fig substance forms links (yellow), which inactivates the DNA. This doesn’t destroy the germs outright but they’re unable to multiply or cause disease. Novel vaccines can be created from the inactivated germs and these are very potent because the ‘whole germ’ is utilised. An effective new vaccine against anthrax has already been developed using this method and the technology is being adapted to rid blood of viruses before transfusion.
Written by Julie Webb
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.
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