A Dutch researcher has created a virus so deadly that it has the potential to wipe out half of the world’s population. Now, researchers and experts seem to consider that this research is so dangerous it shouldn’t even be published; there are voices which state this shouldn’t even have happened.
The virus in case is a mutation of the avian influenza H5N1 – also known as the bird flu, and this research was made to study it in case this mutation occurs naturally – which might happen. Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Center Rotterdam, Netherlands made this virus much more contagious; bird flu emerged ten years ago, and since then, despite all the hype, there have only been 600 reported cases. Statistically, you have more chances of being killed by a falling coconut than by the bird flu.
But Fouchier’s genetically modified strain is extremely contagious and dangerous, killing about half of infected patients, while also being transmitted more easily. It was revealed that this modified strain has five mutations, all of which exist in nature, but not combined. The strain is as contagious as your average influenza, but much more lethal.
“I can not think of a pathogenic organism to be more dangerous than this one”, commented Paul Keim, a specialist in microbial genetics who worked for many years with the anthrax bacillus. “I think the anthrax is not at all scary, when compared with this virus” , he added.
Keim is also the coordinator of the U.S. National Committee dedicated to biosecurity issues, which makes him particularly interested about the danger this research poses, if falled in to the wrong hands.
“It’s just a bad idea for scientists to turn a lethal virus into a lethal and highly contagious virus. And it’s a second bad idea for them to publish how they did it so others can copy it,” believes Dr. Thomas Inglesby, a bioterrorism expert
But on the other hand, this whole study was made with the point of understanding how the virus would behave, so we could be ready in the case of such a terrorist attack, or in the case the virus mutates by itself, so some researchers believe banning this paper would leave mankind much more vulnerable to these scenarios. What do you think?
Andrei's background is in geophysics, and he's been fascinated by it ever since he was a child. Feeling that there is a gap between scientists and the general audience, he started ZME Science -- and the results are what you see today.