Smallpox vials just hanging out in CDC Maryland storage room, no big deal


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Meh. They haven’t seen the back of my fridge [neither have I in, lo!, these many moons], nor sampled the exotic fungi that are eating the gaskets.

Isn’t this sort of like the Department of Energy finding a few left over A-bombs in an old janitorial closet. YIKES!


I guess it got separated from the blankets.


There’s no such thing as the “CDC Maryland storage room”. As the article clearly states this was the NIH, not the CDC. The CDC was only involved in the cleanup stage.

Additional testing of the variola samples is under way to determine if the material in the vials is viable (i.e., can grow in tissue culture). This testing could take up to 2 weeks. After completion of this testing, the samples will be destroyed.


(grumble, grumble, god damn scientists and their “oh, we got to do tests!” attitude, always setting up action-movie plots where terrorists try and get their hands on deadly viruses. Don’t wait for the terrorists to attack and have to have Nick Cage rescue you, just destroy them right away!)


There are likely more forgotten ampoules rotting away in other freezers, forgotten forever. It’s a good idea to see if the critters inside can still be viable.


Well, you say that now, but then they’re gonna start the testing and then one of the scientists are gonna go “oops, I forgot to turn the ventilation off”, and you know what happens then? The Stand, that’s what happens! Get ready for a 1,400 pages of tedious exposition, supernatural villains and an arguably racist 100-year old magic negro lady stereotype!


You had one job tully.One job.


It’s really hard to catch Variola though the air. Unless you’ve got skin issues. But there’s only one reported case of anyone catching eczema vaccinatum in the states, lately. Mine was unreported. So there’s not that much chance of eczema variolatum…

My theory on the backstory on this one: “Bob, did you grab that last batch”


“You’ve changed Bob, I feel like we don’t communicate anymore.
Are you mad that we’re being transferred to a new lab?”

“What? I can’t hear you in this hazmat suit”

“Nevermind, you never listen anyway. I’m heading to the de-contamination shower, you’re not invited”

Oblivious thumbs up from Bob


When I wrote that I was thinking of the last person to ever die from smallpox, this lady, who caught it through the ventilation from the lab downstairs (this was after it was eradicated, but before people decided to destroy all samples but two). I’m sure you’re right, but it is clearly possible.


The Russian lab where the samples are securely stored is called vector. Let that sink in.


One good reason for testing it is to find out if it’s live enough to be a potential risk to anybody exposed to the storage facility. Do they need to be quarantined?
Do they need to send a few guys into the NIH storage room dressed in hazmat bunny suits spraying Clorox around, or do they need flamethrowers?

And yes, the CDC also ought to invite the Russians down to Atlanta and burn the remaining biological warfare stuff in a fire, and then go to Russia and take out their stash. Cowpox is good enough for a vaccine if we need one.

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I’m sure there are a few of those, too at Oak Ridge and Hanford.

employees discovered vials labeled ”variola,” commonly known as smallpox, in an unused portion of a storage room

A storage room is not “unused” if there are still things stored in it.

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The slightly nerve-wracking (albeit impressive, as a matter of scientific progress) possibility is reconstruction. We’ve sequenced the stuff, so someone with sufficient ability to stitch together nucleic acids can in principle rebuild the viral DNA, and there are a variety of other *pox viruses (of markedly lower risk) to potentially cobble together a more or less adequate smallpox-like set of supporting components.

That would hardly be molecular biology for noobs, and the result might not be as good as the authentic stuff; but viruses are the logical candidates for ‘first to be restored from tape backup’ without direct biological continuity.

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It’s storing something, but it’s not being used when there’s no activity and no intent of future activity (because they’ve forgotten there’s anything interesting in there and don’t intend to put anything new in).

We need a pair of DNA/RNA analyzer-synthetizer.

What I am thinking about is a pore in a membrane, surrounded with carbon nanotubes or something similar acting as tunneling microscope probes or electrostatic field probes. Pull the DNA strand through the pore, record the signals (whether electrical, by connecting the nanotubes to something, or optical, by controlling fluorescence of the sensing molecules), reconstruct the molecule shape; voila, the sequence is out including things like base methylations.

The other part is also on a membrane; a self-assembled artificial enzyme, with four parts, fed with polynucleotide chains. Each of the four parts is sensitive to a photon of a different wavelength to absorb its energy, change conformation, and attach one nucleotide on the growing chain being printed. Then absorb another photon (that can have wavelength shared with all four elements) to restore original conformation and be prepared for next command. This way, DNA can be printed by flashes of five-colored light.

The combination of these two will allow rapid analysis and production of genetic material.

The bad news is that it allows making dangerous viruses fast.

The good news is that it also allows detecting them fast, and printing out a vaccine or inhibiting RNA or other countermeasure on demand.

Now imagine having this rig in every little provincial hospital… epidemies have no chance.

By international agreement, there are two official World Health Organization (WHO)-designated repositories for smallpox: CDC in Atlanta, Georgia and the State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology (VECTOR) in Novosibirsk, Russia. The WHO oversees the inspection of these smallpox facilities and conducts periodic reviews to certify the repositories for safety and security.

And from recent newsworthy items, I’m sure we’re all good when it comes to international agreements being followed to the furthest extent possible. On top of that, while the smallpox may be locked away, I don’t think it takes any stretching of the imagination to consider that the U.S. (and/or the Soviets, the French, the XYZ) is likely to have biological/chemical horrendum agentia in development or storage that easily rival the efficacy of smallpox (despite many countries signing the Biological Weapons Convention).