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Texas Lab Doing Defense Work Received Dangerous, Live Anthrax

A rod-shaped bacteria known as Bacillus anthracis can cause anthrax, serious infectious disease.

A San Antonio research company confirms one of its Texas subsidiaries received potentially dangerous anthrax spores accidentally shipped by U.S. Department of Defense workers.  

A company spokesman says the live anthrax spores received by Signature Science in Austin, were frozen and the containers hadn’t been opened. 

Signature Science is a for-profit subsidiary of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. The company website says Signature Science works on a variety of government projects including those that provide “national and homeland security.”

Southwest spokesman Tim Martin says the Centers for Disease Control coordinated with the Travis County Health and Human Services Department Wednesday to retrieve what should have been inactive spores.  He said no one in Austin came in contact with the substance which can cause serious illness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say as many as nine labs conducting government research may have received the anthrax shipments from the Dugway Proving Ground, an Army facility in Utah.

An investigation began after one of the labs contacted the CDC. It’s working with the Pentagon to develop a new test to identify biological threats.  Anthrax spores it received should have been dead but instead produced a live strain of the organism. 

The Pentagon has halted shipments of the material while it investigates the safety breach.

Another San Antonio lab, the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, has clearance to work with anthrax but says none of the live spores were sent to its facilities. 

Shelley Kofler is Texas Public Radio’s news director. She joined the San Antonio station in December 2014 and leads a growing staff that produces two weekly programs; a daily talk show, news features, reports and online content. Prior to TPR, Shelley served as the managing editor and news director at KERA in Dallas-Fort Worth, and the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.