Innovative Biocatalysts as Tools to Detect and Inactivate Nerve Agents

Sci Rep. 2018 Sep 13;8(1):13773. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-31751-5.


Pesticides and warfare nerve agents are frequently organophosphates (OPs) or related compounds. Their acute toxicity highlighted more than ever the need to explore applicable strategies for the sensing, decontamination and/or detoxification of these compounds. Herein, we report the use of two different thermostable enzyme families capable to detect and inactivate OPs. In particular, mutants of carboxylesterase-2 from Alicyclobacillus acidocaldarius and of phosphotriesterase-like lactonases from Sulfolobus solfataricus and Sulfolobus acidocaldarius, have been selected and assembled in an optimized format for the development of an electrochemical biosensor and a decontamination formulation, respectively. The features of the developed tools have been tested in an ad-hoc fabricated chamber, to mimic an alarming situation of exposure to a nerve agent. Choosing ethyl-paraoxon as nerve agent simulant, a limit of detection (LOD) of 0.4 nM, after 5 s of exposure time was obtained. Furthermore, an optimized enzymatic formulation was used for a fast and efficient environmental detoxification (>99%) of the nebulized nerve agent simulants in the air and on surfaces. Crucial, large-scale experiments have been possible thanks to production of grams amounts of pure (>90%) enzymes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alicyclobacillus / enzymology
  • Alicyclobacillus / genetics
  • Biosensing Techniques / methods*
  • Carboxylic Ester Hydrolases / genetics
  • Carboxylic Ester Hydrolases / metabolism
  • Chemical Warfare Agents / analysis*
  • Chemical Warfare Agents / metabolism
  • Decontamination / methods*
  • Limit of Detection
  • Nerve Agents / analysis*
  • Nerve Agents / metabolism
  • Organophosphorus Compounds / analysis*
  • Organophosphorus Compounds / metabolism*
  • Pesticides / analysis*
  • Pesticides / metabolism
  • Phosphoric Triester Hydrolases / genetics
  • Phosphoric Triester Hydrolases / metabolism
  • Sulfolobus acidocaldarius / enzymology
  • Sulfolobus acidocaldarius / genetics
  • Sulfolobus solfataricus / enzymology
  • Sulfolobus solfataricus / genetics


  • Chemical Warfare Agents
  • Nerve Agents
  • Organophosphorus Compounds
  • Pesticides
  • Carboxylic Ester Hydrolases
  • Phosphoric Triester Hydrolases