A group of scientists is pushing to publish research about how they created a man-made flu virus that could potentially wipe out civilization. The deadly virus is a genetically tweaked version of the H5N1 bird flu strain, but is far more infectious and could pass easily between millions of people at a time. The research has caused a storm of controversy and divided scientists, with some saying it should never have been carried out.
The current strain of H5N1 has only killed 500 people and is not contagious enough to cause a global pandemic. But there are fears the modified virus is so dangerous it could be used for bio-warfare, if it falls into the wrong hands.
Virologist Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands led a team of scientists who discovered that a mere five mutations to the avian virus was sufficient to make it spread far more easily. The research papers are now being reviewed by the U.S National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB). NSABB does not have the power to prevent the publication but it could ask journals not to publish.
Paul Keim, chairman of NSABB, said: ‘I can’t think of another pathogenic organism that is as scary as this one. I don’t think anthrax is scary at all compared to this.’
Traditionally scientific research has always been open so that fellow scientists can review the work of others and repeat their methods to try and learn from them. But numerous scientists have said they believe research on the avian flu should be suppressed. Keim said they “don’t want to give bad guys a road map on how to make bad bugs really bad.”