Last year, Nature and Science prepared to publish research describing how to mutate H5N1, a deadly bird flu, into more-contagious forms. The papers could help scientists create a treatment should a similar mutation occur in nature. But according to the U.S. government, the papers could also help terrorists create a weapon.
Just a handful of genetic mutations can turn bird flu into a highly infectious pathogen that could wreak havoc on humans, according to a new paper published today. It’s the first of two controversial virus mutation papers to get its day in the sun, and it shows how the H5N1 flu could evolve to infect mammals.
In an unusual move, an international coalition of flu researchers agreed last week to a hiatus on work surrounding a highly contagious, mammal-adapted version of the avian influenza virus. Research on transmissible H5N1 flu will halt, and two manuscripts describing how to modify the virus won't be published, at least not yet.
The voluntary pause came a few weeks after an American advisory panel recommended censoring the research in the name of security. So it raises an interesting question — is some research just too dangerous to pursue?
Inside a Dutch medical facility is a potentially devastating weapon that could kill millions: A genetically modified version of the H5N1 bird flu, engineered to be easily transmitted among ferrets. And the researchers who figured out how to do it would like to share their work with the world.
Future chicken cutlets may come from birds that have been genetically modified to resist bird flu, after a breakthrough in Britain announced this week. Researchers have produced chickens that cannot spread avian flu to other chickens, a major step toward protecting birds — and humans — from the deadly virus.
The transgenic cluckers still died from bird flu, however, so there’s still much more to be done before scientists produce a truly flu-free bird.