The United States Navy’s elite SEALs can’t hold a candle to actual seals. Science Daily reports that another animal may soon sport a furry flack jacket of its own — the llama.

Scientists at the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research have discovered that llama antibodies may be able to fight off seven different types of botulinum neurotoxins (BoNTs). BoNTs are the only toxins on the federal Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention's top list of potential bioterror threats.

These llama antibodies, called single domain antibodies (sdAb) or “nanobodies”, are different than those found in humans. They’re molecularly flexible. “As such, sdAb may allow biosensors to be regenerable and used over and over without loss of activity. Also, for some types of BoNT, conventional antibodies are not generally available and we are filling this biosecurity gap,” said Dr. Andrew Hayhurst, a virologist a the biomedical research facility in Texas.

"We not only aim to use the antibodies in BoNT detection tests, but also to understand how they bind and inhibit these fascinating molecules," Hayhurst said. Not only do researchers hope to use the llama antibodies to help fight bioterrorism, but also to develop future anti-botulism treatments.

Improperly stored foods and beverages cause most cases of botulism. In the study, bioengineering techniques were employed to clone antibodies that developed in the blood of a llama that had been immunized with seven different versions of BoNT. The resulting antibodies were tested for their ability to detect BoNT in a number of drinks, including milk.

Hayhurst and his team are continuing their research to learn why certain llama antibodies inhibit toxins. (I wonder if there will be an anti-botulism or bioterror vaccination made of llama spit? Stay tuned.)

Llamas may be next weapon against bioterror
Naturally occurring antibodies in llamas inhibit one of the toxins atop the CDC's list of potential bioterror threats, researchers find.