Dangerous diseases found in illegal California medical lab with nearly 1,000 bioengineered mice

Dangerous diseases found in illegal California medical lab with nearly 1,000 bioengineered mice

Authorities uncovered an illegal lab inside a California warehouse containing nearly 1,000 mice bioengineered to catch and spread the coronavirus.

Infectious agents including HIV, Hepatitis, E Coli, malaria, herpes, and coronavirus were found inside the lab, according to SFist.

The lab was discovered near Fresno, California, in the city of Reedley. The Reedley City Manager, Nicole Zieba, told local broadcaster KRON4 that she'd never experienced such a discovery in more than two decades of civil service.

"This is an unusual situation. I've been in government for 25 years. I've never seen anything like this," she said.

The lab contained approximately 30 refrigerators and freezers, though some had ceased to function by the time they were discovered. Incubators and medical testing devices were also found at the lab, alongside the disease samples and mice.

Authorities determined that the lab was operated by Prestige Biotech, based in Las Vegas. Court records show the company previously had a lab in Fresno, but it burned down. The company then re-opened a lab in Reedley.

Prestige Biotech previously funded another company, Universal Meditech Inc, which produced medical equipment. That company was based in Fresno, but eventually declared bankruptcy. Prestige reportedly took over Universal's operations despite not having a license to do so, according to the San Joaquin Valley Sun.

Wang Zhaolin, a spokesperson for Prestige, told investigators that the facility was used to manufacture Covid-19 tests, and that the mice — which had been engineered to catch and carry the virus — were used to test the tests.

Investigators also discovered a room in the facility where pregnancy tests were manufactured.

The investigation into the lab began in early March when a city code enforcement officer spotted a garden hose attached to the back wall of the facility. Officials searched the site and discovered the lab.

"Certain rooms of the warehouse were found to contain several vessels of liquid and various apparatus," NBC News reported. "Fresno County Public Health staff also observed blood, tissue and other bodily fluid samples and serums; and thousands of vials of unlabeled fluids and suspected biological material."

Once investigators realised an illegal lab was operating in the warehouse, county officials notified the CDC, the FBI, and the California Department of Public Health

Approximately 800 of the recovered mice were euthanised on a veterinarian's recommendation. Another approximately 175 were dead when they were discovered by police.

Joe Prado, the Fresno County Department of Public Health, said the site was also filled with bottles of "unknown chemicals."

"There was over 800 different chemicals on site in different bottles of different acids," Mr Prado told KRON 4. "Unfortunately, a lot of these are being categorised under unknown chemicals."

All of the biohazards present in the lab have been destroyed as of 7 July, according to the county. An investigation into the labs origins is ongoing.