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Llama Proteins Could Play a Vital Role in the War on Terror

Scientists at the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research (SFBR) have for the first time developed a highly sensitive means of detecting the seven types of botulinum neurotoxins (BoNTs) simultaneously.

The BoNT-detecting substances are antibodies -- proteins made by the body to fight diseases -- found in llamas. BoNT are about 100 billion times more toxic than cyanide, and collectively, they are the only toxins in the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 'category A' list of potential bioterror threats alongside anthrax, Ebola virus and other infectious agents.

The llama antibodies, called single domain antibodies (sdAb) or "nanobodies," are molecularly flexible, unlike conventional antibodies. "As such, sdAb may allow biosensors to be regenerable and used over and over without loss of activity. Also, for some types of BoNT, conventional antibodies are not generally available and we are filling this biosecurity gap," said Andrew Hayhurst, Ph.D., an SFBR virologist. Since some sdAb have been shown to have inhibitory activity and can block toxin function, they may play a role as part of a future anti-botulism treatment.
 
 

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