News of the WeekBiosecurity

Discovery of Untracked Pathogen Vials at Army Lab Sparks Concerns

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Science  26 Jun 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5935, pp. 1626
DOI: 10.1126/science.324_1626

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More than 9200 unlisted vials of dangerous pathogens and toxins have turned up in an inventory of biological materials at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. USAMRIID officials say most of the samples—representing about 13% of 70,000 vials housed in the institute—were left behind by researchers who worked at the institute before 2005. Officials say although they cannot be "100%" certain that no unlisted samples were lost or stolen, security measures at the institute make it unlikely. The finding, announced last week, has surprised some researchers and security experts, who say the institute may have violated federal rules by not conducting such an exhaustive inventory right after the enactment of the 2002 Bioterrorism Act. It has also left some wondering whether other biodefense labs might have incomplete databases of select agents.