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Biosecur Bioterror. 2010 Jun;8(2):151-4. doi: 10.1089/bsp.2010.0012.

Destruction of microbial collections in response to select agent and toxin list regulations.

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Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York 10461, USA.


In this study we have followed up on anecdotal and hearsay evidence that microbial collections were destroyed in the United States following the imposition of the regulations associated with the Select Agents and Toxins List, to validate or refute that information. Using a questionnaire, we documented 13 episodes of microbial collection destruction involving viral, bacterial, and fungal strains, which we believe is almost certainly an underestimate of the number of collections destroyed. In every case, the motivation for the destruction of the collection was a desire to avoid the perceived burdens of the regulatory environment associated with operating under the Select Agent Regulations. Some institutions that destroyed isolates considered, and in some cases tried, transferring their collections to registered institutions prior to collection destruction but desisted when confronted with transport regulations. Destruction of microbial collections represents a loss of strains and biological diversity available for biomedical research and future mechanistic, forensic, and epidemiologic investigations. Given the rapid evolution of microbial strains, the destruction of archival collections is a potentially irretrievable loss that was an unintended consequence of regulations to protect society against the nefarious use of biological agents. Furthermore, unregistered institutions continue to destroy newly acquired clinical isolates, thus preventing the establishment of new repository collections. We recommend that government agencies develop plans to ensure that microbial collections are preserved when considering future additions to microbial threat lists under which the possession of certain microbes is criminalized.

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