(Tue, 27 Dec 2011 13:11:00 +0000)
BSL-4 Lab Worker – Photo Credit –USAMRIID
As I’ve mentioned in two recent blogs (The Passing Parade Of 2011 and The Passing Parade Of 2011 – Pt. 2), the controversial tinkering with avian flu viruses in the laboratory to create a more transmissible strain is hardly unique.
Researchers all over the world, working mostly in BSL-3 labs, are creating new reassortant viruses to study.
Their hope is to identify the changes that nature would need to make in order to spark a pandemic, and in doing so, perhaps get a jumpstart on a vaccine.
And for the most part, until Ron Fouchier announced the creation of an airborne H5N1 strain last August (see Katherine Harmon’s Sci-Am article and in a follow up to this story in New Scientist: Five Easy Mutations), few in the media took notice.
Halfway across the world, Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a highly respected virologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine announced the creation of a comparable H5N1 super flu at roughly the same time.
The debate, which encompasses extremely serious and complex issues, has unfortunately devolved in many media outlets to simplistic hyperbolic rants against irresponsible `mad scientists’ creating `Frankenflus’ that will be the death of us all.
Luckily, not all of the coverage has taken the low road. A few examples include:
By DENISE GRADY and DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.
Published: December 26, 2011 – NY Times
Dutch scientists have created a version of the deadly H5N1 bird flu that’s easily transmitted. In an unprecedented move, a U.S. board asks that some details of the research not be published.
By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times
December 26, 2011, 10:21 p.m.
But one of the best debates is going on at Vincent Racaniello’s Virology Blog in his recent blog post A bad day for science and the 30+ comments (including from Ron Fouchier and Mike Imperiale, a member of the NSABB) that follow.
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