Scientists charged after one caught smuggling dangerous germs out of country

OTTAWA – Two former federal government scientists are facing charges after one of them was caught trying to smuggle highly contagious bacteria out of the country.

Klaus Nielsen and Wei Ling Yu, both former researchers with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, are charged with breach of trust by a public officer in a scheme to commercialize agency property, the RCMP said in a statement.

“The matter was originally reported to the RCMP by the CFIA in March 2011,” said the Mounties.

“The investigation focused on Dr. Nielsen and Ms. Yu’s unlawful efforts to commercialize intellectual property belonging to the CFIA and a private commercial partner.”

Nielsen also faces several charges under the Export and Import Permits Act, the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act and the Human Pathogens and Toxins Act.

He was caught on his way to the Ottawa airport last October carrying 17 vials of what turned out to be live Brucella bacteria that can infect livestock and humans.

Some of the charges deal with unsafe transportation of the germs.

Police have not revealed the intended buyers of the material, or where Nielsen was allegedly attempting to transport it.

Yu is still at large and is believed to be in China. A Canada-wide warrant has been issued for her arrest.

Brucella primarily attacks livestock, particularly cattle, where it causes a condition known as brucellosis and can induce spontaneous abortion. It can also infect humans, causing severe sweating and muscle pain. It is rarely fatal.

A strain of Brucella was the first bacteria used by the United States military when it began producing biological weapons in the mid-1950’s. Its use was discontinued when it proved ineffective as a potential weapon.

In 2003, Nielsen was part of a team of scientists that won a CFIA Technology Transfer Award for developing a 15-second test for detecting brucellosis in cattle.

In 1984, the CFIA declared Canadian cattle and farmed bison officially brucellosis-free. Still, a “reservoir of disease in Canadian wildlife means that Canada must regularly survey its cattle for brucellosis,” says the agency’s website.

Thousands of brucellosis cases are regularly reported in developing countries where unpasteurized dairy products from diseased cattle, sheep and goats are consumed.

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