An autopsy last week revealed that a geneticist who died mysteriously might have succumbed to the plague. Malcolm Casadaban, 60, studied a weakened and reportedly benign form of the bacteria that causes plague, Yersinia pestis, in his lab at the University of Chicago. Casadaban died Sunday, 13 September, and an autopsy report 5 days later indicated high levels of Y. pestis in his blood. No other cause of death was apparent, the university said.
A team of scientists at the university, with support from local health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is investigating the matter. So far, no one in contact with Casadaban has shown plague symptoms. The investigators are focusing on whether the strain Casadaban worked on was different than other benign strains of the bacterium and whether he had any inborn susceptibility to the microbe. Results are expected in a few weeks.