mad scientist researcher behind the science, nothing to see here folks move along…
A deadly strain of bird flu with the potential to infect and kill millions of people has been created in a laboratory by European scientists – who now want to publish full details of how they did it.
The discovery has prompted fears within the US Government that the knowledge will fall into the hands of terrorists wanting to use it as a bio-weapon of mass destruction.
Some scientists are questioning whether the research should ever have been undertaken in a university laboratory, instead of at a military facility.
The US Government is now taking advice on whether the information is too dangerous to be published.
To see the graphic: The last outbreak – A deadly virus even before the latest twist
“The fear is that if you create something this deadly and it goes into a global pandemic, the mortality and cost to the world could be massive,” a senior scientific adviser to the US Government told The Independent, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The worst-case scenario here is worse than anything you can imagine.”
For the first time the researchers have been able to mutate the H5N1 strain of avian influenza so that it can be transmitted easily through the air in coughs and sneezes. Until now, it was thought that H5N1 bird flu could only be transmitted between humans via very close physical contact.
Dutch scientists carried out the controversial research to discover how easy it was to genetically mutate H5N1 into a highly infectious “airborne” strain of human flu. They believe that the knowledge gained will be vital for the development of new vaccines and drugs.
But critics say the scientists have endangered the world by creating a highly dangerous form of flu which could escape from the laboratory – as well as opening a Pandora’s box for fanatical terrorists wishing to make a bio-weapon.
The H5N1 strain of avian influenza has killed hundreds of millions of birds since it first appeared in 1996, but has so far infected only about 600 people who came into direct contact with infected poultry.
What makes H5N1 so dangerous, though, is that it has killed about 60 per cent of those it has infected, making it one of the most lethal known forms of influenza in modern history – a deadliness moderated only by its inability (so far) to spread easily through airborne water droplets.
Scientists are in little doubt that the newly created strain of H5N1 – resulting from just five mutations in two key genes – has the potential to cause a devastating human pandemic that could kill tens of millions of people. The study was carried out on ferrets, which when infected with influenza are the best animal “model” of the human disease.
The details of the study are so sensitive that they are being scrutinised by the US Government’s own National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, which is understood to have advised American officials that key parts of the scientific paper should be redacted to prevent terrorists from using the information to reverse-engineer their own lethal strain of flu virus.