ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

25 September 2002


Subject: WSJ Authorities Probe Case Of Missing Bacteria,,SB1032390712851591555,00.html

 Authorities Probe Case Of Missing Bacteria


 WASHINGTON -- Federal authorities are investigating the disappearance of  genetically altered bacteria fatal to pigs that appear to have been stolen  from a research laboratory at Michigan State University.

 Investigators said that while the bacteria apparently are harmless to  humans, they could devastate the pork industry if replicated and released,  and they are treating the case as a potential terrorist threat.

 "If this had happened 13 or 14 months ago, we wouldn't have thought twice  about it," said Ron DeHaven, deputy administrator for veterinary services  for the Department of Agriculture. But in the current environment, "we  have  to think the worst and hope for the best."

 Two vials of the material, Actinobacillus pleuropneumoniae, also known as  APP, were reported missing Friday, along with notes on swine-vaccine  research. Authorities said someone with knowledge of bacteria could  replicate it.

 The theft, which authorities say stemmed from an unauthorized entry into  the East Lansing, Mich., lab sometime late last week, comes at a time when lab security has been questioned around the country, primarily because of the  anthrax mailings last year that killed five people.

 Lonnie King, dean of Michigan State's College of Veterinary Medicine, said  the bacteria normally attack the respiratory system of young pigs. The  genetically modified version, however, spreads into the brain, and the  animals can die of complications from encephalitis. The researcher was  attempting to make a "nonpathogenic" strain to use as a vaccine but ended  up with a deadlier version instead, Dr. King said.

 "Our concern is because if it manifested itself as encephalitis rather  than  pneumonia, it would look different" to veterinarians and farmers who might  encounter the symptoms, Dr. King said. Infected pigs can be treated with  normal antibiotics if people realize the problems are caused by APP.

 Mr. DeHaven said one noticeable symptom is convulsions. Death can occur in  six to 24 hours.

 School officials and the Department of Agriculture have spent the past two  days alerting state veterinarians, pork producers, veterinary facilities,  schools and labs around the country about the theft and what to look for.  "We're taking this very seriously," said Detroit-based Federal Bureau of  Investigation Special Agent Terry Booth. "It could wipe out a lot of swine."

 The implications of that would be serious from both an economic and  dietary standpoint. "Look at the mad-cow disease," Mr. Booth said, referring to  the human deaths and the devastation done to Britain's beef industry by that  outbreak.

 Write to Gary Fields at

 Updated September 19, 2002

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