On Jan. 13, 1928, in an ISU laboratory, Ival Merchant, professor of veterinary microbiology and preventative medicine, sealed four vials with cotton and wax. Each contained a sample of one the world's deadliest diseases.

They were the first of hundreds of vials that would soon become Iowa State's anthrax collection.

Two of the vials were opened again 50 years later, in 1978, by R. Allen Packer, chairman of the ISU veterinary microbiology and preven tative medicine department. The contents of the glass tubes had become crystalline, but he placed the dried spores in a new medium and they flourished, as deadly as they had been after killing a cow half a century ago.

On Oct. 11, 2001, 83 years after the vial was first corked, it was destroyed.

All because of a false alarm.


Ames had made national news two days earlier after the Miami Herald and NBC claimed the Oct. 5 death of Bob Stevens, a photo editor of a tabloid newspaper in Florida, was caused by the "Ames Strain" of anthrax, harvested or manufactured in an ISU lab.

The dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine was thrown into a frenzy.

"It was a crazy day," said Norman Cheville, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine office. "In that two-day period, we had over 140 interviews and over nine television interviews."

At first, it was unknown whether Iowa State still had anthrax, said James Roth, distinguished professor of veterinary microbiology and preventative medicine.

"This building has over 1,000 rooms in it and probably a dozen microbiology labs," he said. "It took a bit to find out if we had some [anthrax]."

Eventually, the professor in charge of the lab area where the anthrax was stored affirmed that Iowa State did, indeed, possess anthrax.

"And there really wasn't much of a story there," Cheville said. "We didn't have an Ames Strain here. What we had were some old cultures that were isolated as far back as 1928."

What was being called the Ames Strain by the media was a genetically stable strain of anthrax. This means it maintains its virulence when grown in a lab, not that it was "manufactured" in any way, Cheville said. It was a popular, strong strain that was used in labs across the country.

According to the original reports, the Ames Strain came from a cow that died in an outbreak of anthrax in the early 1950s. It was later traced to a sample sent to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Fort Detrick, Md. The sample's label said it was from Ames, Iowa.

But according to an article published Wednesday by the Washington Post, the Ames Strain had never once touched Iowa soil. It was originally isolated at the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostics Laboratory at Texas A&M University. The Ames reference came from the label on the special container used to ship the sample in 1980. The USDA Veterinary Services Laboratory supplies hundreds of the containers to labs across the country and had supplied the container to Texas A&M. The containers are marked with the Ames lab's address.

Which is why Roth, who now supervises the collection of animal bacteria pathogens, couldn't find the original strain.

"We didn't know what the Ames Strain was, either," he said. "We didn't name it the Ames Strain."

When the questions began, the collection was taken out of the drawer where it had been stored.

It was examined in a biological safety cabinet by two members of the ISU environmental health and safety unit. Although some labels were incomplete or cryptic, none of the more than 100 tubes were labeled "Ames Strain."

In a 1985 publication, U.S. Army Medica Research Institute of Infectious Diseases referred to the strain, now known to be from Texas, as the Ames Strain. The report also referred to the strain as being isolated in 1980, another reason Roth had doubts about the Iowa connection.

"It says it came from a cow in 1980. No one here remembers a case of anthrax in 1980, but we do remember a case in 1979," he said.

But even though they weren't sure how Iowa State got roped into the anthrax situation, the College of Veterinary Medicine decided it wouldn't happen again.

Killing a killer

Cheville, Roth and Dr. Donald Reynolds, associate dean of research for Veterinary Medicine, gathered on Oct. 11 to discuss the fate of the ISU anthrax collection. They called the FBI, the Center for Disease Control and the USDA labs and asked them if they should destroy their originals. All said yes.

"We went through a logical thought process," Cheville said. "Were these strains that we had important in the criminal investigation in the terror event?"

The FBI said no.

"Would any other repository in the U.S. want these cultures?"

No - all the genetic material had been sent to the national repository already.

"Was there any educational value to the cultures? Students were interested by these old cultures, but the government offices were going to require that they be guarded 24 hours a day. That was going to cost $30,000 a month and we'd rather spend that money on students," Cheville said.

So, at 5:30 p.m. that evening, every strain in Iowa State's collection was placed in pink plastic autoclave bags and pushed into the autoclave, a steam oven that heats up to 120 degrees Celsius and creates 15 pounds of pressure.

"For most bacteria, 15 minutes is plenty," Roth said.

The anthrax was steamed all night. The next day, all the vials were incinerated.

The only items saved were the metal can the original 1928 vials had been stored in and the handwritten, lead-pencil notes made by Packer in 1978. Both are now kept under glass at the Merchant Museum in the Vet Med College.

"We would do it again because there wasn't any reason to keep them," Cheville said. "Of course, we thoroughly and very clearly thought out what we wanted to do. If there had been any thought that these would have been useful to someone, we wouldn't have destroyed them, but there weren't."

Safe all along

Had the Ames Strain come from Iowa, there was never any chance of it being stolen from the ISU lab, Roth said.

Nothing was stolen or borrowed," he said. "The lab is locked routinely. The particular cabinet was locked. We weren't paranoid about it because we were taking the normal precautions."

And what Iowa State had in October was not pathogenic or virulent.

"It makes no sense that they could have gotten it from us," Roth said. "The Ames Strain is a highly virulent strain, and none of ours fit that description."

Living with the Ames Strain

Few people panicked when they heard they might have been living in a town that originated the terrorism on the East Coast, Roth said.

"We didn't hear too much reaction," he said. "[Vet Med students] are trained in bacteriology. They know it's not dangerous."

In the first weeks after the news broke, the Thomas B. Thielen Student Health Center received inquiries about anthrax vaccinations and information, said Lauri Dusselier, health promotion supervisor.

"We really didn't have requests about testing," she said. "A few asked about the vaccine, and it's not available through us - it's only available for military personnel."

ISU President Gregory Geoffroy was not directly involved with the decision to destroy the anthrax, but he said he approved of the way it was handled.

Although the publicity was not all flattering, it helped increase the awareness about Iowa State, he said.

"I think that more folks know about Ames, Iowa, than they did before," Geoffroy said. "Any time they know more about your location, it's to your benefit, especially since I think all the bad info was corrected."

(35) comments

our plan

TI have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles. Keep up the good work!. Portland OR

our plan

I was reading your article and wondered if you had considered creating an ebook on this subject. Your writing would sell it fast. You have a lot of writing talent. טיולים מאורגנים

Harry Jack

If more people that write articles really concerned themselves with writing great content like you, more readers would be interested in their writings. Thank you for caring about your content. no strings attached

our plan

If you are looking for more information about flat rate locksmith Las Vegas check that right away. Oscar awards live stream

our plan

Hey what a brilliant post I have come across and believe me I have been searching out for this similar kind of post for past a week and hardly came across this. Thank you very much and will look for more postings from you. Reliability Training

our plan

Never seen this kind of useful post. I am grateful to you and expect more number of posts like these. Thank you very much. חבילות נופש בפסח

our plan

more readers would be interested in their writings. Thank you for caring about your content. palomino RV trailer in mo

samsaung mirza

I absolutely hate coupon codes that don't work! The great thing about GetACode.com is that they guarantee their codes will work (or they'll give you a gift card from Amazon) savings

samsaung mirza

It’s pretty worth enough for me. In my opinion, if all webmasters and bloggers made good content as you did, the web will be a lot more useful than ever before. Sell Used Test Equipment

our plan

This is a brilliant blog! I'm very happy with the comments!.. walmartone.com

our plan

You completed a few fine points there. I did a search on the subject and found nearly all persons will go along with with your blog. classic rock forum

samsaung mirza

I love seeing blog that understand the value of providing a quality resource for free. windstream speed test

samsaung mirza

Your views are in accordance with my own for the most part. This is great content for your readers. 토토

samsaung mirza

Someone Sometimes with visits your blog regularly and recommended it in my experience to read as well. The way of writing is excellent and also the content is top-notch. Thanks for that insight you provide the readers! Zahnarzt Düsseldorf

sohail khatri

you've got achieved a omnipresent process upon this article. Its wholly proper and intensely qualitative. you've got even managed to make it readable and clean to access. you have a few valid writing function. thank you consequently much. 토토사이트

samsaung mirza

Among the lots of comments on your articles. Thanks for sharing. cat grooming nyc

sohail khatri

Wow, What an incredible call. i found this too much informatics. it is what i used to be seeking for. i'd considering to signify you that entertain component sharing such kind of data.If realizable, thank you. grant cardone university review

carsonj jackson

I have you bookmarked your site to check out the new stuff you post. numero de telephone voyance

Tyler Roberts

I was surfing the Internet for information and came across your blog. I am impressed by the information you have on this blog. It shows how well you understand this subject. חבילת נופש

carsonj jackson

I have read all the comments and suggestions posted by the visitors for this article are very fine,We will wait for your next article so only.Thanks! Hindi tips to increase libido

sohail khatri

you've got achieved a omnipresent process upon this article. Its wholly proper and intensely qualitative. you've got even managed to make it readable and clean to access. you have a few valid writing function. thank you consequently much. https://datinglodge.com/

sohail khatri

I go to your blog often and advocate it to every of individuals who wanted to count going on their understanding expertly. The fashion of writing is extraordinary and plus the content material is top-notch. thank you for that shrewdness you assign the readers! w88888

hankry ss

I enjoy every one of the post, My spouse and i liked, I might like additional data using this type of, since it can be pretty nice., Regards created for supplying. Look At This

Bernard Warren

A number of dissertation websites on the internet for those who purchase needless to say publicised as part of your page. See this information

Bernard Warren

It feels entirely appropriate. Every one of smaller aspects were created through many record education. I really like the application plenty Click here

yokyok yokyok

Wow, cool post. I'd like to write like this too - taking time and real hard work to make a great article... but I put things off too much and never seem to get started. Thanks though. watch and download movies and tv shows online

yokyok yokyok

If you set out to make me think today; mission accomplished! I really like your writing style and how you express your ideas. Thank you. how clenbuterol works

yokyok yokyok

Fantastic blog! Do you have any tips and hints for aspiring writers? I’m planning to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost on everything. Would you propose starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m completely overwhelmed .. Any suggestions? Many thanks! https://dbol-cycle.com/when-should-you-take-dianabol/

yokyok yokyok

This post is very simple to read and appreciate without leaving any details out. Great work! Social Media Crypto

yokyok yokyok

There is obviously a lot to know about this. I think you made some good points in Features also. Keep working, great job! half life of deca durabolin

yokyok yokyok

I seem to be forward to more reliable articles and I think we all wish to thank so many good articles, blog to share with us. free music industry contacts

yokyok yokyok

Superbly written article, if only all bloggers offered the same content as you, the internet would be a far better place.. seo contest uwelcome2019,

jordan james

Really enjoyed reading this post, big fan. Keep up the good work andplease tell me when can you publish more articles or where can I read more on the subject? David Orth Accountant

yokyok yokyok

I’m excited to uncover this page. I need to to thank you for ones time for this particularly fantastic read!! I definitely really liked every part of it and i also have you saved to fav to look at new information in your site. marketing digital para pequenas empresas

taha saeed

Article is good google

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.