Will "Science" publish how to make the avian influenza (H5N1) highly contagious in 2012?
Settled on 06/22/2012 20:30 Settled by kruijs
Winning option: settled question on option 'Yes'. Details: Highly pathogenic avian influenza A/H5N1 virus can cause morbidity and mortality in humans but thus far has not acquired the ability to be transmitted by aerosol or respiratory droplet (â€œairborne transmissionâ€) between humans. To address the concern that the virus could acquire this ability under natural conditions, we genetically modified A/H5N1 virus by site-directed mutagenesis and subsequent serial passage in ferrets. The genetically modified A/H5N1 virus acquired mutations during passage in ferrets, ultimately becoming airborne transmissible in ferrets. ... Thus, avian A/H5N1 influenza viruses can acquire the capacity for airborne transmission between mammals without recombination in an intermediate host and therefore constitute a risk for human pandemic influenza. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/336/6088/1534.abstract
The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity is investigating a research group that succeeded in making the avian influenza (H5N1) highly contagious in the lab.
The researchers, led by virologist Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, induced five mutations that rendered the virus highly contagious among ferrets. They presented their findings in September at the European Scientific Working group on Influenza conference held in Malta. Fouchier then offered an article on his findings to scientific journal Science which asked a US institute for bio-security to examine the result. That institute told the US government the research could be threatening to public health and security.
The National Security Advisory Board on Biosecurity deals with issues of so-called dual use -- science that is done for valid reasons, but which would be used for evil ends. The body does not have the power to bar publication, but it is unclear whether a scientific journal would feel comfortable publishing an article if the group says it should not be placed in the public domain.
It's also not clear whether the funders of the research -- in this case, the U.S. National Institutes of Health -- would permit publication if the government's biosecurity advisers objected to publication of an article.