MEXICO CITY -- Two germ banks tucked away in the smog and sprawl of the hemisphere's largest city stock dozens of petri dishes filled with anthrax, the bacteria that have sparked a worldwide panic.
But there are no armed guards, no security cameras and no health officials tottering about in germ-proof space suits. In fact, these labs sell, swap or even give away the potentially deadly microbe to those with scientific credentials.
Scientists estimate that germ banks from Bangkok to Buenos Aires, Paris to Perth, keep dozens of strains of Bacillus anthracis, the germ that causes anthrax, and millions of other potentially deadly bacteria on-hand for research purposes.
Visits to several germ centers around the world found that hazardous spores are often shipped out in hard-plastic travel vials to hospitals looking to check a diagnosis or to researchers.
When the Gulf War brought fears of biological weapons pumping germ-laced gas into the Iraqi deserts where American forces roamed, the United States began limiting who could receive hazardous microorganisms from its germ centers.
Since 1997, it has been illegal for laboratories to ship any deadly microbes to destinations in or outside the United States without permission from the Justice Department.