In DepthCHEMICAL WEAPONS

U.K. attack puts nerve agent in the spotlight

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Science  23 Mar 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6382, pp. 1314-1315
DOI: 10.1126/science.359.6382.1314

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Summary

One of the world's deadliest poisons has emerged from the shadows after the audacious attempt earlier this month to murder a former Russian spy on U.K. soil. The poison, U.K. investigators have revealed, is one of the Novichok, or "newcomer," class of nerve agents the Soviet Union began developing nearly 50 years ago. In 1992, a former Soviet military chemist blew the lid off the clandestine program, claiming that the hitherto-unknown chemicals are several times more toxic than VX—until then the deadliest known nerve agent. Scientists are racing to unravel why the mysterious Novichok agent is so potent. They fear its chemical structure will make finding an antidote unusually difficult, and that the compound could cause long-lasting health effects in those who survive exposure.