Weaponizing Viruses – The Article

Yes, we’ve created yet another new verb by “-izing” a noun.

What are your thoughts on the US govt. sponsored research in Holland that has taken a highly pathogenic (but poorly transmitted) H5N1 bird flu virus through “several mutations” to create a new strain of bird flu that is in an airborne form that is both highly contagious and has a roughly 50% mortality rate?

The creator insists that he should be allowed to publish his results to:
1. Give the exact sequences of genetic codes of the final form that allow the virus to become airborne and contagious.
2. Give the exact sequences of genetic codes that lead up to that final form, so scientists can monitor natural bird flu virus populations to see if the natural viral populations are mutating in ways that can or may someday result in a form that would likely cause a world-wide pandemic.
3. To prove wrong the respected scientists who previously said that the H5N1 bird flu virus could not mutate into a highly contagious airborne form.

I find the last item particularly interesting, because the creator says that this was his purpose in starting the research. He simply thought that the “big boys” in the field were wrong, and he felt it necessary to prove that he knew better. After his group developed this new potential source of a world-wide pandemic, he started describing how his work could also be used to monitor for mutations that create the path to world wide contagion…

Gotta love research that is motivated simply by the desire to prove others wrong, and then justify it after the fact.

A few sidelights to consider:
a. Fouchier is a Dutch scientist working in Rotterdam in a new facility built just for this project, which means they have no longstanding culture or tried-and-true systems for high level protection of secrets, protecting processes, or prohibiting “leaks” like the facilities at Fort Dietrich.
b. Fouchier is quoted as claiming that it took only “a handful” of mutations.
c. Fouchier released has already previously released preliminary details of his work in public conferences – apparently without permission.
d. Published reports of Fouchier’s remarks say it took 5 mutations.
e. Fouchier’s group performed the viral mutation trials multiple times to prove that it works reliably.
f. What is the probability that the same sequence of 5 mutations will occur in nature, in the same ways, to justify Fouchier’s logic that his work must be published so scientists can monitor for his sequence of mutations?
g. Fouchier’s wonder-virus’s 50% mortality rate is more than a bit higher than the 1918 Flu pandemic’s 2% overall mortality rate.

Should the US government give Fouchier what he wants: to publicly publish all methods, materials, and results?

Should governments be supporting overseas research programs in other countries to create new highly virulent & highly dangerous viruses – where the government paying the bills really has little or no control over either the research or the results of the research?
Interesting? Challenging?
Your thoughts?
steve

* * * *
Feel free to copy while giving proper attribution: YucaLandia/Surviving Yucatan.
© Steven M. Fry

Read-on MacDuff . . .

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8 Responses to Weaponizing Viruses – The Article

  1. Pingback: Weaponizing Viruses | Surviving Yucatan

  2. yucalandia says:

    khaki replied 8:23 AM 12/27/2011

    I’m still in shock over what the CDC said – in an online telephone interview – in conjunction with the W.H.O. after the H1N1 disaster. The same week that a man in Progreso hung himself because tourism was so far down that he couldn’t feed his family, the CDC was asked why they didn’t stop the panic and tell the people that H1N1 isn’t as bad as regular flu? Their answer was that they needed to practice their pandemic response anyway so they just let it run. That was a huge picture window into the ethics of that whole “agency” bunch… so I would be MORE surprised if I saw a headline saying that ANY agency was conducting ethical research in any way, shape, fashion or form.

    You’re right – research is not to prove somebody else is wrong. That automatically causes the researchers to have a bias toward the data. Instead, you replicate – over and over and over again… and just like with a paycheck – you “wait til Friday and be surprised.” In other words, the outcome has to be a non-manipulated outcome for it to have any meaning at ALL. …and here we have idiots playing with building an environmental bomb that could wipe out half the world… With their ethics, they are VERY likely to lose control of it. What are they going to say then? “woops?” Ridiculous. …and deadly.

    Khaki

  3. yucalandia says:

    Whazzoo wrote: 8:30 AM 12/27/2011

    All very interesting, but the real key lies in creating a 100 percent effective antidote or vaccine against strain 5 and of course the inevitable strains 6, 7 and 8 which mother nature will be sure to provide. Don’t forget Fouchiers research could be duplicated in Iran, North Korea or a cave in Afghanistan, the cure is a much harder target.

    Also:
    Let’s suppose Fouchier’s virus is a reality and lets suppose with a small amount of DNA/RNA manipulation or in combination with an Enterovirus carrier host, one could tailor the virus to only specifically target Pubescent males and females with (pick your choice here) Blonde hair or perhaps caring the gene for a receding hair line. You could selectively terminate any group you wished. You would not even need a delivery method. Planes circulate the air as they fly exposing all on board and 10 carriers each getting on ten planes and then onto 1 other plane and poof PANDORA is out of the box.

    The Big fly in the ointment is the pathogen mutating beyond your control.

    Africanized honey bees anyone?

    Whazzoo

  4. Eric Chaffee says:

    I read a somewhat different account, here: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/12/14/the_bioterrorist_next_door?page=full

    But why quibble over factual details such as kill rate (50% or 80%), number of replications required (5 or 10), etc? The genie is out of the bottle. Scientists communicate with each other. Gov’t can’t restrain them. Some might conclude that we’re screwed.

    Ah, but have we learned anything? Can boys with “chemistry sets” really derail the Creator’s handiwork, kick over the divine sand castle, and announce “gotcha last”? Or, is that ancient Greek question about whether destiny is immutable re-asserting itself yet again?

    A curious Hebrew word, most often translated as ‘dominion’, appears in the first chapter of Genesis 1:26 (visible here: http://tinyurl.com/86twytv ). Literally the word is often rendered ‘to trample.’ But it is also valid to translate it as ‘to walk over.’

    No farmer intentionally tramples his crops. Yet competent ones surely walk over their fields and plantations gently. When will we cease our trampling and rise to mirror our true nature? Is the best way to begin breaking the habit of viewing soap-opera dramas simply to refuse to tune in? How to refrain in such a “connected” world? Where does equanimity reside?

    ~eric.

    • yucalandia says:

      eric,
      Sovereignty, equanimity, and dominion take the dialogue in an entirely different direction.

      Should we speak only of farmers walking through their fields, or should we also consider leaders and the educated elite traversing high across slopes of seemingly stable talus? Both require careful and skilled steps, but the latter reveals the responsibility of single mis-steps that rain rocks onto others.
      steve

  5. Eric Chaffee says:

    Steve,

    “Raining rocks onto others” is apt, be the target farmers, or just regular folks. And I wouldn’t want to need to grow anything in in that rubble (“talus”) that accrues, in order to feed my family. But such is the present state of community on this planet. We seem to demand a personal right to do as we please, with utter disregard for others, emptying our discards and residues into our neighbors’ “gardens” (lives), perhaps even pillaging their economies (harvests) as it were. And then we’re shocked when they want to retaliate in escalated fashion.

    This particular (potential) viral escalation surely is as challenging as the nuclear option, yet also contains ‘mutually assured destruction’ — even if there is a claim of engineered bias in the virus. (Such engineers are surely acquainted with the ‘law of unintended consequences.’) History is merely the same old stuff happening to different people. It is dubious to assert that it would follow some engineer’s (or screen writer’s) script.

    Our leaders? Well, ‘when the blind follow the blind, everyone soon finds the ditch.’ But we ought to recall that this planet has always been only a temporary home. If collective destruction, over against individual demise, were to threaten, would anything significant really have changed? I certainly don’t welcome the prospect of suffering through such a disaster! Those who might survive could be, perhaps, not so fortunate.

    ~eric.

  6. Eric Chaffee says:

    Here’s an excerpt obliquely pertaining to the topic:

    IN 1943, THE PHYSICIST Erwin Schrödinger delivered a series of lectures at Trinity College, Dublin. In these he argued that the metabolism of any organism feeds upon its environment in order to free itself as far as possible from consistent entropic decline. The entropic decline is expressed in the equation: S1 – S ≥ 0. This might be the most depressing thing the human species has ever said to itself. Entropy always maximises its life-destroying possibilities. Things go from bad to worse. We’re all doomed. Maximum entropy once achieved is the state of thermodynamical equilibrium. Entropy ends where life ends, at the point of absolute zero, minus 273 degrees centigrade. Short of that, things are still going on to some extent. Schrödinger argued that in battling away to minimise the entropy that condemns it to death, the organism always ingests negative entropy: it effectively creates order in an anti-entropic manoeuvre. A plant is continually borrowing order from the sunlight so as to stay alive and grow. The capture and retention of energy is the first principle of life.

    SOURCE: http://fortnightlyreview.co.uk/2011/12/ruin-the-collector/

  7. Whazzoo says:

    “BBC 21 December 2011 Last updated at 02:22 GMT Help
    The authors of a controversial bird flu study have reportedly agreed to redact key details, after a US government panel suggested the data could be used by terrorists.

    Editors at two scientific journals have, however, said they will not approve the changes until they are assured the data will be accessible to researchers.

    Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the the US National Institutes of Health, confirmed to the BBC that the public health officials who need to know and want to do research for the public good will have access to the data.

    Dr Fauci added that, for safety reasons, the general public should not have information explaining how to make a lethal virus.”

    Did I miss something? Wasn’t the USA providing support for this project? Since they weaponized the virus as a TEST? are they not in violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol on the weaponizing of viruses. In 1969, President Richard Nixon ended all offensive (i.e., non-defensive) aspects of the U.S. bio-weapons program. In 1975 the U.S. ratified both the 1925 Geneva Protocol and the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) — these are international treaties outlawing biological warfare. Recent U.S. biodefense programs, however, have raised concerns that the U.S. may be pursuing research that is outlawed by the BWC. (courtesy of Wikipedia)

    Once you open Pandora’s box it is open for ever!

    Whazzoo

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