A panel of U.S. biosecurity officials is asking investigators to keep some of their new research on bird flu under wraps, fearing that terrorists could use the information on the infectious disease to develop a devastating new weapon.
Bird flu once raised alarms around the planet, spurring governments to stockpile vaccines as fears spread of a potential human pandemic. But the fears were never realized as the dread H5N1 virus never evolved to the point that it could spread among humans easily.
Now scientists at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands, have figured out how to tweak the virus so that it could potentially cause a global outbreak, and the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity wants to keep some of that recipe under lock and key, excluding the information from a published report. The editors at Science are pondering how to respond.
"In the laboratory, it was possible to change H5N1 into an aerosol transmissible virus that can easily be rapidly spread through the air," Dutch scientist Ron Fouchier tells Bloomberg. "This process could also take place in a natural setting."
There's nothing unusual or suspect about the work itself. Scientists often study viruses to see how they could evolve, gaining important insights on how new viral threats can be avoided. There's been a significant amount of discussion about whether militant groups have the scientific know-how to weaponize a virus like H5N1.
- here's the story from Bloomberg