H5N1 GMO Virus a plot to sell Tamiflu?
Scientists contradict themselves as they stated the super virus had been created in lab experiment.
By DAVID BROWN | WASHINGTON POST | APRIL 4, 2012
Two controversial research projects with the H5N1 bird flu virus haven’t produced a killer bug but have generated useful information, two researchers told scientists and bioethicists gathered here to talk about the benefits and pitfalls of manipulating deadly pathogens.
“We can use this information to understand what’s happening in nature,” Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin told the group, which is meeting to discuss experiments on the much-feared flu strain that has infected 600 people, killing more than half of them, since 2003. He said his work is already shedding light on outbreaks in Egypt, the country with the second-largest number of H5N1 cases over that period.
The meeting at the Royal Society was called after two science journals agreed in December to hold off publishing two papers on the bird flu experiments because they were thought to contain information too dangerous for public consumption. The journals were asked to do so by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, a committee of scientists that advises the U.S. government about federally funded research, such as these experiments.
That committee changed its mind last week after a closer examination of old and new data provided by Kawaoka and Ron Fouchier, who heads a research team at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam. The journals, Nature and Science, say they plan to publish the papers soon.
A few details of Fouchier’s experiment were released last month, allaying some fears about its hazards. Kawaoka revealed an even fuller version of his work here Tuesday, further defusing worries. Numerous listeners, however, said it is only a matter of time before the question of whether to publish the results of “dual-use research” — research that could be used for good or bad purposes — comes up again.
Normally, bird flu is hard for people to catch. It requires close contact with sick birds and almost never passes from person to person. The ease of transmission is mostly determined by the structure of one protein, hemagglutinin. Kawaoka wanted to find out what mutations in that protein’s gene might make the virus more contagious in people.
He put a bird flu hemagglutinin gene into the 2009 pandemic “swine flu” virus and by various methods induced four mutations in it. The final bug was easily passed between ferrets, unlike viruses containing a “wild” bird flu hemagglutinin gene. But the engineered virus didn’t kill the animals and didn’t even make them as sick as the swine flu virus. The infections were also easily stopped with the drug Tamiflu.