Anthrax clean-up by mother-daughter team

October 26, 2010 By Linda A. Lucchetti
Alison Burklund discusses her project, "Finding the Optimal Decontamination Method for Bacillus Anthracis Spores in a Contaminated Drinking Water System," at the 2009 Tri-Valley Science and Engineering Fair where she placed first in the biochemistry category.

Alison Burklund has a collection of ribbons and awards that she's picked up for her outstanding projects at the Tri-Valley Science and Engineering Fair, a collection that began when she was in the eighth grade.

But this year, Burklund, now a senior at the Athenian School in Danville, wanted to try her hand at something different. Being passionate about her science studies, she decided to write an article for a science journal.

Burklund's mother, Ellen Raber, the deputy program director for Counterterrorism within the Global Security Principal Directorate, liked the idea and not only was supportive, but offered to co-author the article.

The mother and daughter team recently saw their study entitled, "Decontamination Options for -Contaminated Drinking Water Determined from Spore Surrogate Studies," published in the October issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

Raber and Burklund's research analyzed and tested five chemicals that could potentially be used to wipe out Bacillus anthracis spores in a large public water system without posing health risks or damaging the environment.

The basis for the article came from Burklund's participation last March in the Tri-Valley Science and Engineering Fair, where she placed first in the biochemistry category with her project, "Finding the Optimal Decontamination Method for Bacillus anthracis Spores in a Contaminated Drinking Water System."

"She is really interested in this topic and this year wanted to take it to a higher level in a scientific paper," Raber said about her daughter.

Since anthrax spores are able to survive for many years in the environment as well as in water and require harsh to neutralize, the team was looking for something that was more environmentally friendly and could potentially be used on a large scale.

After studying three of five chemicals that were determined to be 100 percent effective: , sodium hypochlorite and Dichlor, they determined that Dichlor, commonly used to treat swimming pools, which had not previously been tested as an anthrax decontaminant, proved to be the best option, based on safety and environmental concerns.

"There is no one feeling to describe how I felt when the paper was accepted for publication - a culmination of hard work and enduring days in the lab finally paid off," Burklund said. "I was able to prove the validity of my research to the entire scientific world, which was something I had always dreamed of doing."

Raber said she is extremely proud of her daughter's hard work and initiative. "She did all the laboratory experiments herself, wrote the first draft of the paper and continued to learn and improve in her ability to do top quality scientific research," she said. "I hope she will have the opportunity to present this work at a conference in the near future."

"Working with my mom was interesting," Burklund adds. "We are two very opinionated individuals who both are only satisfied with the highest caliber of work. Our two strong personalities were bound to conflict at times. However, overall our relationship was strengthened through hours of late night discussions, detailed data analysis, and seemingly endless revisions."

Burklund currently plans to pursue biochemical engineering in college. She is fascinated by the biochemical reactions that form the basis of all life. She wants to further pursue her interest in biochemistry and find a pragmatic application for her research that could potentially ensure public safety on a large scale or even assist in environmental efficiency.

Explore further: Anthrax Detector Developed

Related Stories

Anthrax Detector Developed

August 16, 2006

Spores of the dreaded Bacillus anthracis have already been used as a bioweapon against the civilian population. Once inhaled, the anthrax pathogen almost always leads to death if the victims are not treated within 24 to 48 ...

Researchers pave the way for anthrax spore standards

April 15, 2008

Researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the U.S. Army Dugway (Utah) Proving Ground have developed reliable methods based on DNA analysis to assess the concentration and viability of ...

Unmasking anthrax for immune destruction

April 30, 2010

Anthrax-causing bacteria can be engineered to shed their invisibility cloaks, making it easier for the immune system to eradicate it, according to a new study published in Microbiology. The work could lead to new measures ...

Dutch researchers develop anthrax sensor

July 16, 2010

Nanotechnologists at University of Twente's MESA+ research institute have developed a sensor that can detect anthrax spores. The invention is more sensitive and efficient than existing detection methods. The research is being ...

Recommended for you

Male seahorse and human pregnancies remarkably alike

September 1, 2015

Their pregnancies are carried by the males but, when it comes to breeding, seahorses have more in common with humans than previously thought, new research from the University of Sydney reveals.

Parasitized bees are self-medicating in the wild, study finds

September 1, 2015

Bumblebees infected with a common intestinal parasite are drawn to flowers whose nectar and pollen have a medicinal effect, a Dartmouth-led study shows. The findings suggest that plant chemistry could help combat the decline ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

JamesThomas
not rated yet Oct 26, 2010
Congratulations, Alison!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.