Months-long investigation uncovers illegal California lab with bioengineered mice carrying COVID-19

By Claire Wolters | Fact-checked by Jessica Wrubel
Published August 7, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Hazardous medical materials and infectious agents were discovered in an unlicensed lab.

  • Officials call the situation shocking, and investigations are ongoing.

  • So far, the public does not appear harmed by the materials.

Following a months-long investigation by local officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an unlicensed California laboratory was found to have contained hazardous waste, improperly stored medical materials, and bioengineered mice with COVID-19.[][]

The lab was operated by Prestige Biotech, a Chinese-based medical company that was registered in Nevada but not in Reedly, California—where the lab was located. Nicole Zieba, city manager for Reedly, told USA Today the city had not been aware of their intentions nor their presence until December when the local health department began to investigate the building. The company had a goal of becoming a diagnostic lab, Zieba said.[]

The health department was initially tipped off about Prestige Biotech’s whereabouts this winter when a code enforcement officer noticed a hose attached to a presumed-vacant building. The health department began its investigation in December, and more extensive investigations followed in March. Some of the search was stalled as officials needed to obtain warrants. Once they realized people were actively working inside the facility, however, investigations grew more intense, and state and federal agencies—including the members of the FBI and CDC—joined in.

Later, court documents revealed that the company was housing several hazardous materials such as blood, tissue and other bodily fluid samples and serums; and thousands of vials of unlabeled fluids and suspected biological material” in the building. Live and dead mice and multiple infectious agents including HIV, COVID-19, chlamydia, rubella, and malaria were also discovered, according to USA Today.[]

The mice were bioengineered to “catch and carry” COVID-19, according to reports. Mice do not contract the SARS-CoV-2 virus unless they express the human ACE2 gene, which requires genetic modification. For this reason labs bioengineer mice before using them for COVID-19 testing protocols.[]  

County officials are accusing Prestige Biotech of “not being forthcoming with information and failing to comply with orders, such as providing a plan for hazardous and medical waste disposal,” according to USA Today.

There are several criminal investigations ongoing and the outcome and future effects from this will remain to be seen as information is released by investigators,” says Alex Ebner, Owner of ACE Medical Company, a certified designer and distributor of surgical equipment. “There are still more freezers, refrigerators, and furniture that still has to be removed and identified.”

Without downplaying the alarm, Ebner adds that there is good news in that “the swift action taken by officials working together to remove the hazardous materials has kept the public safe.”

“At this point, nothing hazardous is jeopardizing the local public,” Ebner says.

What this means for you

Hazardous medical materials and infectious agents were discovered in an unlicensed lab in a California warehouse. So far, the public does not appear to be harmed by the findings.

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