Enzymes for Detection and Decontamination of Chemical Warfare Agents
Enzymes provide an exceptional combination of high catalytic activity and substrate specificity, which make them suitable biocatalysts for degradation of toxic compounds in the environment. The use of biological methods is recommended over the use of chemical agents since enzymatic preparations are not corrosive, flammable or harmful to biota or human health. Isolated enzymes with high catalytic power are particularly suited to situations where rapid detoxification is essential. Moreover, the majority of enzymes are compatible with each other and function at the physiological condition, which provides a good opportunity to use isolated enzymes in versatile mixtures. These characteristics make enzymes prominent catalysts for neutralization of warfare chemicals applicable in: (i) detoxification of sensitive surfaces, (ii) treatment of human victims and (iii) applications as prophylaxis for personnel with a high risk of exposure. Enzymes converting toxic chemicals can also be used in early warning detection systems. Isolated enzymes or whole cells are being used as biorecognition elements in rapid and cost-effective biosensor devices. Here we present a historical context for the use of enzymes for chemical warfare detoxification and we also outline the current threats associated with the use of chemical warfare agents. We summarize state of the art in the development of detoxification technologies with a focus on enzymatic methods and highlight areas of future advancements in the field of isolation, engineering, and application of enzymes in defense against chemical weapons.