March 15, 2002


 Ames strain a misnomer

Posted March 1, 2002 

In Dec. of 2001, JAVMA reported that the anthrax strain used in the bioterrorist attacks, known as the Ames strain, was not stolen from Iowa State University as the popular media had been reporting.

At that point, the Army claimed that it had obtained the strain from the National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, in 1980, but records were sketchy. Scrutiny of the NVSL's records did not reveal an anthrax-infected cow in Iowa during that year, nor did the NVSL have a record of a strain called Ames.

Now, closer inspection of Army documents has cleared up the confusion. The Army obtained the strain in 1981 as part of an effort to gather various types of anthrax to test vaccines. The strain remained unnamed until 1985, when scientists at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases described it in a scientific paper. The researchers named it Ames, but the strain wasn't from Iowa—it was from Texas—and a shipping container was the source of the quandary.

In 1981, the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, a state agency and member of the Texas A&M University system, isolated the microbe from a Texas cow. The laboratory shipped the strain to USAMRIID, but sent it in a special container that the USDA supplies to veterinary laboratories around the country. The container's return address was the USDA's National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames.