(Ed note: CIDRAP buried the lead – if modified h5n1 escaped the result could well be catastrophic. And my alarmist headline doesn’t do justice to just how horrendous the event could be. There are better ways to do this work and ways that don’t involve creating Frankenstein variants.)
From CIDRAP News Study: H5N1 tweaks that boost airborne spread
Apr 14, 2014
Image: Transmission electron micrograph shows the ultrastructural details of an influenza virus particle. CDC / Erskine Palmer, PhD, & M.L. Martin
In a controversial study published 2 years ago Dutch scientists described a lab-modified strain of H5N1 influenza virus that was capable of airborne transmission among ferrets. Now the same researchers say they have identified five specific mutations that gave the virus this ability, a claim that is renewing debate about the risks of conducting and publishing such experiments.
Writing in Cell, the scientists said they identified two combinations of five mutations that affected specific characteristics of the virus and collectively enabled it to spread by air. They assert that the findings will help in the effort to detect early warning signs of flu strains that could cause a pandemic.
But other experts question the scientific value of the findings and argue that they are not worth the risks involved in conducting such experiments and publishing the full details. They assert that the research poses a risk of either accidental or intentional release of dangerous viruses.
Building on 2012 study
The new study builds on a US-government funded study that was published in June 2012 in Science. In that case, Ron Fouchier, PhD, of Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands and colleagues described how they used a combination of genetic engineering and serial infection of ferrets to create a mutant H5N1 virus that could spread among the animals without direct contact. Continue reading