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?
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© Steven M. Fry
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