Dateline July 2011: Virologists at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam have genetically modified the H5N1 influenza virus so that there is now an airborne strain. This makes it even more contagious than ever. What a scary thought that is, but perhaps even more startling was the ease with which it was done. Isolate a couple of viral mutations and bingo an incredibly acute flu bug was soon airborne.
The new threat has triggered advice to the U.S. government, which by the way funded the research, that the technical know how of this method be deemed classified and remain unpublished in any medical or scientific journal. The big fear is of course not the flu itself butÂ the replication of the process by terrorists, or rogue governments and their scientists.
Not so much censorship as self-protection and the community of journal publishers are taking the government advice, even though it is against all principles of information sharing and openness. The research scientists who normally resist any such gagging from politicians because of their desire to be free to share information are also heeding the orders of the government. The fear of terrorism generally makes everybody question principle of openness with such powerful data.
Should Experimentation of H5N1 Be Banned?
Experts in security and biological warfare are even suggesting that this kind of experimentation should be banned and the creation of such deadly germs must not take place at any time. The dire warnings are all about how bad the diseases are and how open to theftÂ and leak the organizations that make them are. Determined enemies or opportunistic thieves can take laboratory results and use them for their own ends. The risk is real even if it does sound like the plot of a Robert Ludlum thriller.
The Rotterdam scientists are complying with the request to not publish some key data, but not without misgivings, because they believe other researchers need the information. The H5N1 influenza virus is a naturally occurring virus despite its scientific label and the virus can be lethal without any laboratory assistance.
[box type=”important”]It already kills many people with a mortality rate of over fifty percent. Fortunately for us however the bird flu type virus, does not often get into human population areas, and even when it does, it rarely transmits between people.[/box]
Airborne Version of H5N1 Influenza Virus
An airborne version of bird flu with the capability of interpersonal contagion could prove to be the worst nightmare of virologists and give rise to the deadliest ever pandemic. The Rotterdam mutations are doing exactly this among experimental ferrets where the super-bug infects them via airborne contamination. Ferrets have the similar immune systems as human beings making them ideal test animals for this kind of research.
As if there weren’t enough naturally occurring bio threats to mankind with giving them a helping hand in the laboratory. This kind of unfortunate side effect of research gives weight to the argument in some quarters of the global science community that such research simply should not be undertaken.
[box type=”important”]Like the Manhattan project that produced the first atomic weapons things cannot be ‘disinvented.'[/box]