Jan 25, 2013
Research on lab-engineered strains of the H5N1 bird flu virus is set to restart a year after the scientists voluntarily paused it to allow for an international public debate on the safest way to proceed.
Last year, two teams of scientists in the United States and the Netherlands submitted papers for publication in Science and Nature describing how they had engineered the H5N1 bird flu virus – which kills half of the people it infects but cannot naturally transmit from person to person – to spread more easily between mammals.
The US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity said that the papers were too dangerous to publish in their original form and demanded that sections of the results be deleted to prevent the information falling into the wrong hands.
That sparked a debate on how “dual-use” research should be handled: whether the results should be published in full to help public health officials prepare for future pandemics that might emerge – in this case if the bird flu virus mutated naturally – or whether some of the details should be kept secret in order to prevent them falling into the hands of bioterrorists.
In January 2012, scientists agreed to a moratorium on research involving lab-created versions of the H5N1 flu virus while scientists, regulators and security experts worked out how best to conduct and publish the work.
This article was posted: Friday, January 25, 2013 at 6:17 am