(Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

 

BY STEVEN SPARKMAN

ANCHOR ANTHONY MARTINEZ

 

Ever since two labs created a strain of bird flu that could pass between humans last year, the scientific community has been sharply divided over what to do about it. On Friday, those labs announced everyone would have a bit more time to think it over. The LA Times reports:

 

“In an almost unheard-of move, scientists who study the deadly H5N1 bird flu announced a 60-day voluntary moratorium on studying the virus to allow time ‘to clearly explain the benefits of this important research and the measures taken to minimize its possible risks.’”

 

The announcement came in a letter published in the journals Science and Nature.

 

In the letter, the researchers acknowledged the concern that the new virus could escape the lab. While not tested on humans, it’s believed their flu strain could easily spread and claim the lives of 60% of those infected. (Video source: Al Jazeera)

 

A writer for Time says such moratoriums have happened before.

 

“In 1972-73, when researchers first succeeded in inserting genes from one species into the genome of another, worries over the specter of genetic monsters and mutant creatures prompted leading scientists in the field to suspend their work while government, scientific and ethics groups figured out how the science should proceed.”

 

That meeting, called the Asilomar Conference, produced guidelines and safety standards for the new scientific field. But while the bird flu researchers’ letter called for such guidelines, a writer for New Scientist says 60 days just isn’t long enough.

 

“It will take longer than 60 days to arrange a real Asilomar for the world's virologists. In 60 days maybe you can reassure the public -- and that seems to be what this is about. … This smacks to me of scientists feeling that all is well, and they must simply take time to explain to uninformed people, who may otherwise cause a fuss, why they should not be worried.”

 

Before scientists can agree on guidelines, they first have to decide which threat they’re most worried about: viruses created by humans or in the wild. Ron Fouchier, one of the virus’s creators, says the technology required is too sophisticated for rogue terror groups, but the threat from nature looms large.

 

He told ABC:

 

“If politics were to shut down this type of research then what we should do is lie in the sun until the next pandemic hits and kills us … Unless that is what we want we have to do this type of research.”

 

But other scientists have weighed in with letters to Science and Nature. One of those letters, written by infectious disease and biosecurity experts, says it’s unrealistic to think this research could help contain wild viruses. That puts the threat of manmade viruses back on top of the priority list.

 

“We can’t unring a bell; should a highly transmissible and virulent H5N1 influenza virus that is of human making cause a catastrophic pandemic, whether as the result of intentional or unintentional release, the world will hold life sciences accountable for what it did or did not do to minimize that risk.”

 

China, Vietnam and Cambodia have all reported bird flu deaths in the past few weeks. All of those viruses are believed to have been passed on by birds, not humans.

Labs Agree to 60-Day Halt on Deadly Flu Research

by Steven Sparkman
0
Transcript
Jan 21, 2012

Labs Agree to 60-Day Halt on Deadly Flu Research

(Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

 

BY STEVEN SPARKMAN

ANCHOR ANTHONY MARTINEZ

 

Ever since two labs created a strain of bird flu that could pass between humans last year, the scientific community has been sharply divided over what to do about it. On Friday, those labs announced everyone would have a bit more time to think it over. The LA Times reports:

 

“In an almost unheard-of move, scientists who study the deadly H5N1 bird flu announced a 60-day voluntary moratorium on studying the virus to allow time ‘to clearly explain the benefits of this important research and the measures taken to minimize its possible risks.’”

 

The announcement came in a letter published in the journals Science and Nature.

 

In the letter, the researchers acknowledged the concern that the new virus could escape the lab. While not tested on humans, it’s believed their flu strain could easily spread and claim the lives of 60% of those infected. (Video source: Al Jazeera)

 

A writer for Time says such moratoriums have happened before.

 

“In 1972-73, when researchers first succeeded in inserting genes from one species into the genome of another, worries over the specter of genetic monsters and mutant creatures prompted leading scientists in the field to suspend their work while government, scientific and ethics groups figured out how the science should proceed.”

 

That meeting, called the Asilomar Conference, produced guidelines and safety standards for the new scientific field. But while the bird flu researchers’ letter called for such guidelines, a writer for New Scientist says 60 days just isn’t long enough.

 

“It will take longer than 60 days to arrange a real Asilomar for the world's virologists. In 60 days maybe you can reassure the public -- and that seems to be what this is about. … This smacks to me of scientists feeling that all is well, and they must simply take time to explain to uninformed people, who may otherwise cause a fuss, why they should not be worried.”

 

Before scientists can agree on guidelines, they first have to decide which threat they’re most worried about: viruses created by humans or in the wild. Ron Fouchier, one of the virus’s creators, says the technology required is too sophisticated for rogue terror groups, but the threat from nature looms large.

 

He told ABC:

 

“If politics were to shut down this type of research then what we should do is lie in the sun until the next pandemic hits and kills us … Unless that is what we want we have to do this type of research.”

 

But other scientists have weighed in with letters to Science and Nature. One of those letters, written by infectious disease and biosecurity experts, says it’s unrealistic to think this research could help contain wild viruses. That puts the threat of manmade viruses back on top of the priority list.

 

“We can’t unring a bell; should a highly transmissible and virulent H5N1 influenza virus that is of human making cause a catastrophic pandemic, whether as the result of intentional or unintentional release, the world will hold life sciences accountable for what it did or did not do to minimize that risk.”

 

China, Vietnam and Cambodia have all reported bird flu deaths in the past few weeks. All of those viruses are believed to have been passed on by birds, not humans.

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