The world's germ banks step up security

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The Independent US

An organisation that represents a third of the world's germ banks, which provide cell cultures and micro-organisms to researchers, has taken new measures to prevent dangerous bacteria being obtained by terrorists.

An organisation that represents a third of the world's germ banks, which provide cell cultures and micro-organisms to researchers, has taken new measures to prevent dangerous bacteria being obtained by terrorists.

The World Federation for Culture Collections, a union of 472 germ banks in 61 countries, said it was removing information about anthrax from its internet sites and was pushing for tighter distribution rules.

Dr Jean Swings, a microbiologist at the University of Ghent in Belgium, who is the group's president, said security at the location was already tight, but he told The New York Times: "We have to restrict the availability even more."

Germ banks give scientists access to cell cultures and micro-organisms, either charging a fee or allowing an exchange for a culture they do not already have. Over the decades, they have helped crush infectious diseases around the world and double human life expectancy. Among the killer diseases they have helped tackle are plague, cholera, diphtheria, tuberculosis, smallpox, typhoid, leprosy and polio.

But the union represents only about a third of the 1,500 germ banks worldwide, which maintain about a million kinds of micro-organisms.

Since the spate of anthrax mailings began, some American establishments have even begun destroying their own stocks of microbes. Iowa State University killed off its anthrax bacteria more than two weeks ago, deciding that they were not worth the trouble after Iowa's governor sent the National Guard to patrol the laboratory where they were stored.

"It was a little sad," said Dr James A Roth, a microbiologist who presided over the destruction. "We'd had these since 1928. But we have a new age now, and if we're going to keep anthrax here, we're going to have to have tight security."

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