Bioterrorism concerns vanquished, Nature publishes bird flu paper

Earlier this year, we told you about U.S. government efforts to restrict publication of research involved in building variations of the H5N1 bird flu virus, over fears the viruses could become weapons in a theoretical terrorist attack. But now, as Reuters reports, the journal Nature has published the first of two of the controversial papers involved in the dust-up. Based on tests in ferrets involving a hybrid virus made of a vital H5N1 gene and the pandemic strain of the 2009 H1N1 swine flu virus, study author Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin, Madison concludes that the virus could be transmissible to humans and has the potential of becoming a pandemic. Initially, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity recommended Nature redact sensitive information in the paper, and in another by Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical College in the Netherlands. The board has since reversed its decision, after meetings involving NIH and WHO flu experts. Kawaoka's paper earned its initial support, the story notes, because it was considered the least controversial. Story