US government asks scientists not to publish all details of lab-bred bird fluFeatured, Health Wednesday, December 21st, 2011
The U.S. government made an unprecedented move of asking scientists last December 20, not to publish the complete details of how they created a variant of the deadly bird flu that can pass easily between ferrets.
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious diseases chief at the National Institutes of Health, which funded the original research. The worry was that the research, which could greatly help other scientists and the public, might be used as reference by would-be bioterrorists.
According to a senior US health official, “not everyone needs to know how to make a lethal virus”. The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) recommended that the “general conclusions” be published but without the details that “could enable replication of the experiments by those who would seek to do harm”.
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Although bird flu is fatal, its spread has been limited because it is not contagious between humans. However, those mutations in the lab mean the flu would have “greater potential” to be contagious among humans, the NSABB said.
Editors at the Science and Nature journals say that they will disagree to the redactions until they are assured that the researchers will have access to the data. NIH’s Fauci said that the system should be implemented very soon’. Some of the scientists have already rewritten their paper because of the recommendation, Science reports.
The other U.S research team at the University of Wisconsin, Madison is likewise reluctantly submitting a revised paper to Nature, a university spokesman said.
Mr. Fauci confirmed that although the NIH, the parent body of the NSABB, partially funded the research as part of “pandemic preparedness,” the NSABB has no authority to stop the publication of the papers with the full details if the editors of Nature and of Science want to.
Dr. D.A. Henderson of the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center said that scientists should be careful about re-engineering influenza because of the potential global consequences if an accident happens. Dr. Henderson who had a major contribution in the eradication of smallpox said, “The question is how can we assure experiments like this really aren’t done in ways that the organism is apt to escape.”