University of W-Madison Professor Gary Splitter worked on Brucella, a microorganism which can cause Brucellosis, a major zoonotic disease. The disease can infect animals and can also cause a contagious disease in humans. Brucella is considered a bioterrorist agent. A biotech worker had become infected while working in Splitter's laboratory.
The Wisconsin State Journal states: "His lab created antibiotic-resistant strains of brucellosis and inserted them into mice in 2007 and possibly earlier, university officials said, without approval from local or federal agencies. The concern is that if someone contracted the antibiotic-resistant version of the disease created in the lab, treatment might have been more difficult." "
Splitter will lose his laboratory privileges for five years due to this serious biosafety incident and since his laboratory was not within recombinant DNA NIH standards. The university was fined $40,000 for their role also in violations of laboratory and public health and safety standards.
Biosafety is a current worker safety and public health and safety issue. Injured biotech workers can remain ill and untreated in the United States since diseases from genetically modified organisms or laboratory strains are difficult to diagnose. In addition biotech workers have no legal rights to appropriate exposure records for treatment after incurring an exposure.
Although academic labs such as University of Wisconsin are mandated to follow NIH guidelines, private industry is under no such constraint, leaving a big gap in public health and safety standards.
The biotech worker in Splitter's lab who became infected with Brucella remains unidentified.