Chemists Attack Nerve Agents

August 15, 2003

Nerve agents are some of the most deadly chemicals ever made. Just 6 milligrams of the nerve agent called VX can kill a person. Another nerve agent called Sarin killed 12 people when it was released into a subway station in Tokyo, Japan, on March 20, 1995.

Scientists are working to find ways to protect people against deadly nerve agents. One natural chemical, an enzyme called phosphotriesterase, is known to destroy nerve agents slowly. Chemists have discovered a way to increase the destructive ability of phosphotriesterase by three orders of magnitude. In other words, the modified enzyme is 1,000 times better at destroying nerve agents than the natural enzyme.

Further research may find a way to use the modified enzyme in a gas mask. This device would allow anyone who fears a chemical attack to breathe a little easier.

Reference and further information:

  1. Hill, C.M., Li, W-S., Thoden, J.B., Holden, H.M. and Raushel, F.M. Enhanced degradation of chemical warfare agents through molecular engineering of the phosphotriesterase active site. Journal of the American Chemical Society, 125:8990-8991, 2003.
  2. Chemical Weapons - Nerve Agents from Neuroscience for Kids

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