Montana senators request brucellosis downgrade

Senators in Montana have requested that two federal agencies downgrade the brucellosis-causing Brucella abortus from its select agent status to make it easier for scientists to research a vaccine to the pathogen.

The pathogen, a potential bioweapon, has been classified as a select agent, which requires that the disease stay under the highest security level in any research. It can cause Yellowstone National Park bison and some western Montana elk to abort their offspring, the Billings Gazette reports.

Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus say that the requirement of such a secure laboratory has prevented proper research into vaccination against the pathogen.

The senators sent the letter on Tuesday to the directors of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The main purpose of the letter was to request a change in the classification for the pathogen.

"Because of the cost of complying with select agent regulations, there is not a single research facility in the United States that can perform the necessary research on elk and bison," the senators said, according to the Billings Gazette. "The B. abortus pathogen is prevalent and highly problematic outside the laboratory doors, but cannot be brought inside for the studies that could lead to an effective vaccine. The situation is absurd for veterinary research facilities in the region."

In a letter last week, partners in the Interagency Bison Management Plan requested the help of the state government on the matter. The agency manages the bison in Yellowstone National Park when they migrate into Montana.