How To: Thwart A Bio-Terrorist Attack

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YOU WILL NEED
Some Llamas

Step 1: Recognize the Awesomeness That is the Llama
Push those vile stereotypes out of your mind. Llamas are more than just South America's walking sweater. For one thing, they jump—many reaching Jordan-like heights of as much as four feet. They also make excellent golf caddies and scientists have developed a way to make a dandruff control treatment out of the llama's immune system.

Step 2: Draw Blood From Several Of Your New Furry Friends
Then head to the lab. You're on the hunt for llama antibodies. Complex proteins that float freely through the bloodstream of almost every animal, antibodies recognize, and clamp onto, anything that isn't supposed to be inside the body--sort of like a tiny, biological car boot. Antibodies serve as a signal to immune cells, attracting them to the intruder. If they've encountered this particular invader before, antibodies can actually neutralize it themselves. And scientists have found that they can manipulate antibodies into locating, identifying, and destroying other things as well—like cancer cells, dangerous microbes, and toxic chemicals. The problem, antibodies don't fare so well outside of a body. In high temperatures they quickly break down and become useless.

Step 3: Convert the Blood Into a Bio-Weapon Defense System
In December of 2006, scientists at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory announced that they had found a way to get around the problem of inconveniently delicate antibodies. That's right, it's llamas. Turns out, the antibodies found in llamas (and sharks and camels, too"¦but they aren't as cute) are about one-tenth the size of human antibodies and significantly less complex of in structure. But, this simplicity and small stature also makes them more durable. Llama antibodies can survive temperatures as a high as 200 degrees F and researchers were able to train them into identifying some of the diseases likely to be used as WMDs: cholera, smallpox, and the toxin ricin. The hope is that, with a little more work, we'll be able to pack thousands of llama antibodies into a sensor that could send out a red-alert of biological attack, long before anybody actually got sick.

Photo is courtesy Generally Awesome and, in this context, is meant to depict an elite squad of llama Homeland Security agents parachuting in to save the day.

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December 19, 2006 - 11:39am
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