Researchers work to protect people from deadly chemical gases

ORNL and UT researchers work to protect people from deadly chemical gases

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Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Lab and the University of Tennessee are taking a close look at a special enzyme through the use of neutrons combined with high performance computing. Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Lab and the University of Tennessee are taking a close look at a special enzyme through the use of neutrons combined with high performance computing.
What they're working toward has the potential to save millions of lives by offering potential victims temporary immunity to nerve agents like Sarin gas. What they're working toward has the potential to save millions of lives by offering potential victims temporary immunity to nerve agents like Sarin gas.
6 News was granted access to an ORNL lab where researchers like Paul Langan are looking for a way to render chemical agents useless in an attack. 6 News was granted access to an ORNL lab where researchers like Paul Langan are looking for a way to render chemical agents useless in an attack.

By LORI TUCKER
6 News Anchor/Reporter

OAK RIDGE (WATE) - Is there a way to protect people from deadly chemical agents like those recently used in Syria?

Local researchers are working on finding answers.

Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Lab and the University of Tennessee are taking a close look at a special enzyme through the use of neutrons combined with high performance computing.

What they're working toward has the potential to save millions of lives by offering potential victims temporary immunity to nerve agents like Sarin gas.

6 News was granted access to an ORNL lab where researchers like Paul Langan are looking for a way to render chemical agents useless in an attack.

As Langan explained, "Here we're growing bacteria that are producing enzymes that will be used for things like decontaminating nerve agents used as chemical weapons."

Among the test tubes and technology, there is a simple enzyme made in nature by squid that scientists at ORNL say can render Sarin harmless.

The enzyme itself is not a new discovery. While it packs a powerful reaction to dangerous gases, it doesn't do so very quickly.

Local researchers are now busy trying to find ways to redesign the enzyme to make it quicker.

"We're part of an effort that involves several labs nationally and internationally to try and engineer, change these enzymes so they work more efficiently," said UT Researcher Jeremy Smith.

Once researchers hone in on how to make the enzyme chew up the nerve agents as fast as possible, the next step will be for another research team to figure out how to administer the substance to humans. Options include using it in an aerosol spray, a patch, or possibly a pill.

The research team says it needs more funding to get a timely answer in its investigation.

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