History of the Early Biodetection Development

Part of the Integrated Analytical Systems book series (ANASYS)


A serious attempt at detecting biological aerosol occurred in the late 1940s. The scientists used optical methods to detect light scatter from single 0.6 µm spore particles moving in an airstream. Considering that analogue tube electronics were the tools of the day, the achievement was remarkable. However, the technology was insufficiently sensitive to permit particle sizing at submicron range. Coincidentally, the use of Bacillus globigii (over the years the species Bacillus globigii has taxonomically changed name from Bacillus subtilis var niger and to the current Bacillus atrophaeus. However, the acronym BG is still widely used)BG aerosol as a bacterial spore simulant for anthrax was first mentioned during these studies. Decades later, other workers thought that chemiluminescence would solve the problem of detecting biological particles captured from aerosol. The technique worked perfectly under laboratory conditions but failed in real life field situations where background material caused too many false alarms. A crucial lesson learnt from this was that all detectors work perfectly in the laboratory but may fail in the field. The next evolutional step was the use of time-of-flight particle sizing technology where it was assumed that artificially generated biological agents would appear mostly in the size range greater than 2.5 µm, providing a distinguishable characteristic from background material. Still, this approach was susceptible to the occasional strong wind gusts that raise big particles from the ground with the potential to degrade false alarm reliability. A more discriminatory approach was clearly required. By good fortune, it was observed that live spores could be induced to fluoresce if excited by long wavelength UV light. A prototype instrument called the fluorescence aerodynamic particle sizer (FLAPS) was built and found to be effective in detecting the “live” simulant for anthrax in field trials. The instrument provided particle size and fluorescent brightness information which when combined with gating methods, permitted software to be developed with the potential to meet low false alarming criteria. The instrument was discovered to be sensitive enough to detect naturally occurring live bacterial particles. It has been mentioned that being “live” is a prerequisite for a particle to be infectious. Thus the potential for this instrument to detect naturally occurring infectious aerosol particles will need further verification. We also caution the tendency for non-microbiologists to misuse the term “identification” of biological agents when they actually mean segregation or sort.


False Alarm Light Scatter Dioctyl Phthalate Aerodynamic Particle Sizer Biological Particle 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Many colleagues have helped in making it possible to achieve the work described in this review. Peter Hairston of TSI Inc. was instrumental in the providing engineering expertise required to design and build the fluorescence optical detector. A few who have been involved with the US Army, for example, Jeff Mohr, Douglas Andersen and Robert McGhin made it possible for testing detection system in Dugway, Utah and Florida. Finally, the commercial success of the instrument is due in no small part to the engineering and marketing skills of TSI Inc., St. Paul, MN and Dycor Technologies, Edmonton AB.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Defence R&D Canada–SuffieldMedicine HatCanada

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