Oh for Petes sake.

During a moment of weakness, I clicked on a HuffPo link on “Swine Flu Could Have Come From-Bio Experiment Lab, Researcher Claims” to see what kind of dip-shit comments were getting posted.

The comments were what I expected, plus an unexpected gem:

Something interesting, not escaping but being given a hand out of the lab! Hope Huffpo follows this one and keeps us updated.
Scientist arrested for smuggling vials used in Ebola research into US

‘Vials used in Ebola research’? What an entirely meaningless phrase. I use ‘vials used in Ebola research’, as most labs use the same products from the same suppliers. Do they mean vials containing Ebola?

No.

Dr. Frank Plummer, scientific director general of the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, said the vials did not contain any infectious pathogens.

“At no time was the health of citizens of Canada or the U.S. at risk, as the seized materials are known to be non-infectious,” he said.

So what probably happened– post-doc left the lab Jan 21st. Wanted to get a head start on his research in his new lab, so instead of mailing himself his own plasmids to his new lab, he threw them in his suitcase and went about his business.

When he crossed the border, border patrol searched his suitcase and found vials of ebola protein expression vectors (not an infectious molecular clone, like what I work with– just an expression vector. a plasmid that just makes one or two viral proteins, thats it). Border patrol had no idea what that means, but they know what ‘ebola’ means, so they freak-out.

So now dude is in prison and everyones all hysterical, even though there was absolutely nothing to fear from a damn expression vector. We mail these things to each other (regular mail!) all the damn time. He just should have filled out a damn materials transfer sheet, but he thought ‘Meh, stupid paperwork. Forget it.’

Uuuuuuuuugh.

I hope this post gets in the news cycle before all the hysterical ones start popping up…

Comments

  1. #1 minimalist
    May 14, 2009

    Too late. It’s probably halfway around the world, all over the wingnut sites by now, and the truth is still struggling to get its pants on.

    Meanwhile, in the Wally-cave, Limp Willy is using this as further “evidence” that all virologists want to wipe out the planet.

  2. #2 The Backpacker
    May 14, 2009

    This is what you get a society that rips apart science learning from both sides of the political spectrum. Just to say I am a proud lefty but Huff Po needs to go away NOW.

  3. #3 Brian
    May 14, 2009

    Further investigation revealed that the vials in question were made of Pyrex, a material that is also used to make meth-lab vials.

  4. #4 Optimus Primate
    May 14, 2009

    Yeah, I’m gonna lay off the Captain Trips jokes now.

    Srsly, though, I’m just glad the post-doc in question was from Canada. If he’d been brown, they would have thrown him in Gitmo already.

  5. #5 Prometheus
    May 14, 2009

    You can’t be too careful. You know who else used to carry a suitcase? Hitler, that’s who.

  6. #6 biopunk
    May 14, 2009

    Yeah, and you know what else is in that suitcase? the plans to bring socialized medicine to the rest of North America! We were sooooo close…

    All our cunning work, ruined by your hyper-vigilant customs agents. Back to the flying simians…

  7. #7 Funkopolis
    May 14, 2009

    Even further investigation revealed the suitcase used to transport the vials was made out of a suitcase, which is a key component in suitcase bombs.

  8. #8 Richard Simons
    May 14, 2009

    Srsly, though, I’m just glad the post-doc in question was from Canada. If he’d been brown, they would have thrown him in Gitmo already.

    Judging by the photo I saw, he is brown. Quite a lot of Canadians are.

    From the local CBC report I got the clear impression that nothing taken was of any risk to anyone. The reporter treated it in a non-sensational way, as something in which no real harm was done but which raised questions about whether something more damaging could occur and I think the conclusion was ‘not easily’.

  9. #9 William Wallace
    May 15, 2009

    This is an odd case.

    Why would he need empty vials? Wouldn’t his new employer provide vials? Heck, if money was tight, he should have taken some of the calibrated digital scales or a nice microscope…those cost more than empty vials.

    Various news reports state variations of “border officials discovered the stolen vials in the researcher’s car trunk, hidden inside a glove wrapped in aluminum foil.”

    Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin said people who live near a facility that contains infectious viruses and disease deserve a clear, transparent explanation on how someone can walk out the door with vials of anything.(Winnipeg Free Press)

    Sounds reasonable to me, especially if the lab gets government funding.

  10. #10 windy
    May 15, 2009

    hidden inside a glove wrapped in aluminum foil

    Haha, sounds sinister but I bet he just had them wrapped in an exam glove and some foil from the lab. Been there, done that.

    from the news article:
    Yao is charged informally on a complaint of attempted smuggling, which is based on his failure to disclose what he was taking across the border, not the type of materials he had

    If it’s not restricted material, why was he expected to disclose it?

  11. #11 Anton Mates
    May 15, 2009

    Why would he need empty vials? Wouldn’t his new employer provide vials? Heck, if money was tight, he should have taken some of the calibrated digital scales or a nice microscope…those cost more than empty vials.

    They weren’t empty. They just didn’t contain infectious material.

  12. #12 LKL
    May 15, 2009

    Because it is reasonable to expect this kind of freak-out from anyone discovering vials labeled ‘ebola’ who is not a virologist?

    One of my A&P instructors had a story about transporting the half-head we used in class across state lines in the trunk of his car, sans permit. I thought it was just an entertaining story at the time…

  13. #13 Fitz
    May 15, 2009

    He sounds like an idiot to me. Crossing an international border with vials marked with “Ebola”? Anyone who does this should expect to be put in jail or shot.

  14. #14 Optimus Primate
    May 15, 2009

    Judging by the photo I saw, he is brown. Quite a lot of Canadians are.

    My oops! You’re right. That’ll teach me to do a Google image search before I open my yap. :)

  15. #15 CW
    May 17, 2009

    If it’s not restricted material, why was he expected to disclose it?

    Crossing the border has its own rules and this is among the type of material that you are required to declare and document when crossing. You cannot even bring a bag of rice or a flower in a little plant-pot into the US without the proper paperwork.

  16. #16 Brian
    May 18, 2009

    I doubt they were marked “Ebola.” None of my HCV plasmids, even the infectious molecular clones are actually marked “Hepatitis C”. They probably found the vials and asked him what was in them. He says “Oh, it’s the ebola envelope protein gene” (or something) – at which point he was headed for jail, probably protesting that he never had any actual virus all the way.

  17. #17 Monado
    May 19, 2009

    The fellow is 42, according to the news–kind of old for a post-doc and old enough that he should know better.

    Why did he have to sneak ANYTHING out of the lab? If it was OK to take it, he could ask. Sheesh.

  18. #18 Monado
    May 28, 2009

    Or an orange. I was once diverted at the boarder because I had an orange to eat on the plane. An American orange. I had to leave it in Canada.

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