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Anthrax Caught on Camera

American researchers have identified the third and final molecule in anthrax, paving the way for a possible antidote against the deadly bacteria.

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The culprits

Two of the three suspects have been identified. The third was still at large - until now.

Scientists announced this week that they had identified the third toxic molecule with which Anthrax bacteria wreak havoc on the human body. The discovery, published in the science magazine Nature, paves the way for a possible vaccine against the deadly bacteria.

Researchers have been especially hard at work trying to understand the makeup of Anthrax ever since spores, and suspected spores, began appearing in mail systems across the globe. The threat sparked panic across Europe but no cases of infection.

Five people were killed and 13 infected in the United States since Sept. 11 and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has yet to find any suspects. This week, the FBI raised the reward money for information leading to arrests to 2.85 million euro ($2.5 million).

The announcement came shortly before researchers Wie Jen Tang of the University of Chicago and Andrew Bohm from the Boston Biomedical Research Institute published their discovery.

Fighting the deadly troika

The first toxin, called the protective antigen, paves the way for the other two to enter into the body. The second, called lethal factor, destroys defense cells in the immune system and sets in motion the biochemical process that causes anthrax’s symptoms.

Bohm, Tang and their colleagues discovered that the third toxin, called oedema factor, changes the matter of the cells it invades. It forces the cells to overproduce a chemical that researchers believe makes cells leak to death.

The researchers are hoping a cleft discovered in the toxin can be plugged by another drug molecule, rendering it useless, according to Nature.

But neither the toxin’s discoverers nor others in the research community are sure that getting rid of one of the three toxins will be an effective antidote.

"It’s still only guess work as to what’s the best target," Robert Liddy of the Burnham Institute in California, told Nature.