Anne MacNamara

The sight of Texas researcher Thomas Butler led away in handcuffs, an image broadcast across America earlier this year, shows that US regulators are serious about stricter laboratory security.1 Colleagues describe Butler, chief of the infectious disease division in the Texas Tech University Department of Internal Medicine, as a talented scientist long devoted to defeating plague. But the September 2001 terrorist attacks transformed plague from a scourge of the Third World into a potential weapon of mass destruction in the eyes of regulators.

A federal grand jury indicted Butler last month on 15 counts, including smuggling, lying to federal agents, illegally transporting biohazards, and tax fraud, according to the Avalanche Journal of Lubbock, Texas. None of the charges target terrorism or suggest that Butler infected anyone with plague; nor do they allege that he violated new select-agent regulations that took effect in February. Butler faces allegations fashioned...

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