Despite being outlawed by several international treaties, some countries have used chemical agents during times of war. In 1988, the Iraqi Kurdish village of Halabja was exposed to multiple chemical agents, killing about 5,000 of the town’s 50,000 residents. After the incident, traces of mustard gas and several nerve agents were discovered. The mass murder was perpetrated by orders of Saddam Hussein as retribution for the Kurdish uprising and in order to test his chemical weapons.
Dr. Raushel and his team have discovered a bacterial enzyme, phosphotriesterase, which can recognize and destroy the toxicity of a broad spectrum of organophosphate nerve agents. What Raushel aims to do now is to design and characterize bacterial phosphotriesterases that are better at detecting, destroying and detoxifying those organophosphates that pose the most serious threats to human health.