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Final Report Summary - AEDNET (Anthrax Environmental Decontamination Network)

Marie Curie FP7 funded Anthrax Environmental Decontamination Network (AEDnet)
Project number- PIRSES-GA-2013-612309
Project Website-

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.

In this project we sort to develop a decontamination approach which was specific for B.anthracis and had minimal impact on the environment. Current decontamination approaches make use of extremely toxic carcinogens like formaldehyde or bleach and thus are unsuitable for environmental use. In contrast bacteriophages, viruses that only infect a particularly species of bacteria, and are ubiquitous in nature represent a much more attractive alternative. The feasibility of using B.anthracis specific phages to target and kill the vegetative form of the pathogen had previously been demonstrated in the laboratory so in this project we sort to translate this approach to something which could be used in the real world.

A major hurdle to the development of this approach was the fact that in nature B.anthracis forms a resistant structure called a spore which allows it to survive for many years but also makes its resistant to the attention of phages. To address this issue we developed a technique in which we used low cost nutrients to trigger the conversion (germination) of B.anthracis spores into bacteriophage (phage) susceptible vegetative bacteria and demonstrated the feasibility of this approach in field trails in Turkey.

We hypothesized that a combination of germinants and B.anthracis specific phages could be an effective and ecologically friendly means of reducing the spore load of contaminated sites. Preliminary laboratory studies using soil collected from contaminated animal burial sites in Turkey confirmed the feasibility of this approach using previously isolated phages.

This network was established to advance the development of this technology by linking groups who were actively working with B.anthracis and bacteriophages and those who were tasked with dealing with the impact of contaminated land on human and animal health. In support of this aim it provided a vehicle by which to harmonize methods across Europe and to share best practice in areas such as biosafety.

Considerable progress has been made towards the development of an environmentally friendly Anthrax spore decontamination system suitable for commercial development. We have identified B.anthracis contaminated sites in Turkey and Georgia which could support future phage based decontamination studies. A standardized DNA typing method has been employed to characterize B.anthracis isolates obtained from different sites and has been successfully used to characterize isolates n North East Turkey. A collection of B.anthracis-specific bacteriophages has been generated and are in the process of being fully characterized as are efforts to optimize large scale phage production. Studies are also planned to develop a robust strategy capable of dealing with regional differences in soil structure. It is our intension to seek further grant funding to exploit the outputs of this study and develop a decontamination system suitable for commercialization.

Potential impact of the project
The project has made considerable progress towards the development of a low cost, simple, environmentally friendly decontamination approach. By undertaking these de-risking studies we have made the approach more attractive to potential commercial partners. Once fully developed the technology has the potential to reduce the incidence of Anthrax in rural areas of the developing world. It will also be of value to those authorities tasked with mitigating the effects of a bioterrorist attack against the people of Europe. In addition to laying the ground work for the development of a new decon system the project has also assisted in the harmonization of B.anthacis genetic typing methods across Europe. The adoption of common typing methods will make it much easier to characterize the trans-border spread of animal and human pathogens. Underpinning all of this project has been our effort to encourage the spread of a biosafety culture which minimizes potential risk to humans or animals. For this biosafety training has been a key element of all of our training activities. Finally it is our expectation that the links established through participation in this network will lead to new collaborations which will strengthen the European research community.

Figure 1. Collection of B.anthracis spore contaminated soil from an animal burial sites in Turkey

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:

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