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U.S. troops participating in sarin gas and VX nerve agent training. The toxin used in the Salisbury, U.K., attack is up to 10 times more potent than VX. Photo: Leif Skoogfors / Corbis via Getty Images

The Novichok or N-series nerve agent — used in last week’s attack against Russian ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, U.K. — is distinct from the better known G- and V-series nerve agents, which unfortunately have become more familiar after their use in Syria and by terrorist groups.

How it works: Nerve agents interfere with neurotransmitters, causing involuntary muscle contractions, impaired cardiac function and airway restriction, potentially culminating in death by asphyxiation. They interfere with the nervous system in stages, making rapid decontamination and treatment essential.

Novichok is up to 10 times more potent than the VX that was used to kill the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un last year. It can penetrate NATO chemical protective gear and was specifically designed to be undetectable using NATO and U.K. sensors.

The bottom line: The use of Novichok represents a deadly game-changer for chemical warfare and nonproliferation. It demands global condemnation and an insistence that Russia account for how the nerve agent came to be used at all, much less on foreign soil.

Daniel M. Gerstein, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation and adjunct professor at American University, was formerly the acting undersecretary for Science and Technology at the Department of Homeland Security.

Go deeper

Pennsylvania certifies Biden's victory

Photo: Aimee Dilger/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Pennsylvania officials on Tuesday certified the state's presidential election results, making President-elect Joe Biden's win in the key battleground official.

Why it matters: The move deals another blow to President Trump's failed efforts to block certification in key swing states that he lost to Biden. It also comes one day after officials voted to certify Biden's victory in Michigan.

Trump bump: NYT and WaPo digital subscriptions tripled since 2016

Data: Axios reporting and public filings; Chart: Axios Visuals

The New York Times and The Washington Post have very different strategies for building the subscription news company of the future.

The big picture: Sources tell Axios that the Post is nearing 3 million digital subscribers, a 50% year-over-year growth in subscriptions and more than 3x the number of digital-only subscribers it had in 2016. The New York Times now has more than 6 million digital-only subscribers, nearly 3x its number from 2016.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
3 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Biden's emerging climate orbit

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

As of Tuesday morning, we know a lot more about President-elect Joe Biden climate personnel orbit, even as picks for agencies like EPA and DOE are outstanding, so here are a few early conclusions.

Why it matters: They're the highest-level names yet announced who will have a role in what Biden is promising will be a far-reaching climate and energy agenda.