Bioterror fears halt research on mutant bird flu
Scientists who created a potentially more deadly bird flu strain have temporarily stopped their research amid fears it could be used by terrorists.
In a letter published in Science and Nature, the teams call for an “international forum” to debate the risks and value of the studies.
US authorities last month asked the authors of the research to redact key details in forthcoming publications.
A government advisory panel suggested the data could be used by terrorists.
Biosecurity experts fear an altered, more contagious form of the virus could spark a pandemic deadlier than the 1918-19 Spanish flu outbreak that killed up to 40 million people.
The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) recommended key details be omitted from publication of the research, which sparked international furore.
“I would have preferred if this hadn’t caused so much controversy, but it has happened and we can’t change that,” Ron Fouchier, a researcher from Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, told Science Insider.
“So I think it’s the right step to make.”
While the H5N1 strain of bird flu is extremely deadly when caught by humans, its impact has so far been limited because it is not easily transmissible between humans.
But the latest joint research, by Erasmus University in the Netherlands and the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US, altered the strain and found it was much more easily passed between ferrets.