Dutch Researcher Created A Super-Influenza Virus With The Potential To Kill Millions
A Dutch researcher has created a virusÂ with the potential to kill halfÂ of the planet’s population. Now, researchers and experts in bioterrorism debate whether it is a good ideaÂ to publish the virus creationÂ “recipe”. However, several voices argue that such research should have not happened in the first place.
The virus is a strain of avian influenza H5N1 genetically modifiedÂ to be extremelyÂ contagious. It was created by researcher Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Center Rotterdam, Netherlands. TheÂ work was first presented at a conference dedicated to influenza, that took place in September in Malta.
Avian influenza emerged in Asia about 10 years ago. Since thenÂ there were fewer than 600 infection cases reportedÂ in humans. On the other hand, Fouchier’s genetically modified strainÂ is extremely contagious andÂ dangerous, killing about 50% of infected patients. TheÂ former strainÂ did not represent a global threat, asÂ transmission fromÂ humanÂ to humanÂ isÂ rare. Or, at least, it wasÂ before Fouchier genetically modified it.
Fouchier and hisÂ team usedÂ a pair ofÂ ferrets for testingÂ because they react in similar ways as humans,Â when exposed to the flu virus. Researchers transmitted the deadly virusÂ fromÂ one ferret to another,Â in order to makeÂ the virusÂ more adaptable to a new host. After 10 generations, the virus has mutated allowingÂ it toÂ spreadÂ through air. The result was thatÂ ferrets could get sick just being near another infectedÂ animal.
A genetic study showed that new virus strain presented five mutations, and all could be alsoÂ observed in nature –Â but only separately, not all five combined. Fouchier’s strain is as contagious as seasonal human influenza, which kills tens of thousands of people, just that, much more lethal.
“I can not think of a pathogenic organism 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”Â , he added.
Keim is the coordinator of the U.S. National Committee dedicated to biosecurity issues andÂ now he has toÂ makeÂ a decision.Â If Fouchier wants to publish hisÂ study detailing how the virus was created, Keim’s andÂ hisÂ committee must approve.
Many scientists are concerned about possible negative consequencesÂ that could precede theÂ publication of this research.Â There are manyÂ fears regardingÂ bioterrorists thatÂ might find useful tipsÂ or a wholeÂ ‘recipe’Â toÂ plan biologicalÂ attacks. DemandsÂ are beeingÂ madeÂ for theÂ establishment of an international institution toÂ oversee such dangerous research projects.
“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
On the other hand, if the study becomes available for theÂ scientific community, it could allow researchersÂ toÂ “be prepared”Â for a potential H5N1 pandemic. Since Fouchier’s study suggests that the risk for this to occur is greater than previously thought. Some researchersÂ believe that banningÂ the paperÂ will leaveÂ mankind helpless if the virus naturally mutates and becomesÂ contagious.
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