Monday, January 23, 2012

Scientists Playing God

Lab techos have created a deadly strain of bird flu...with the potential to kill us all!
For the first time ever, the H5N1 strain of avian influenza has been mutated so it can be transmitted easily through the air via coughs and sneezes. Until now, it could only be transmitted between humans via very close physical contact.
But now Dutch scientists want to publish full details of how they did it! This has raised fears that terrorists will be able to use it as the ultimate bio-weapon. This is a scenario often used in thrillers: Tom Clancy's Executive Orders (featuring an airborne strain of the Ebola virus) readily comes to mind.
Bird flu has killed hundreds of millions of birds since first appearing in 1996, but has so far infected only about 600 people. What makes it so dangerous? Well, it's killed about 60% of those infected, making it one of the most lethal forms of influenza EVER – only moderated by its inability (so far) to spread easily through airborne water droplets. But now these clowns have cracked it! Why? Because they can?
The US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity is saying that key parts of the scientific paper should be changed to prevent bad guys from reverse-engineering their own lethal strain.
The study was carried out at Rotterdam's Erasmus Medical Centre. And where is this potentially Doomsday Bird Bug now? Still at the medical centre under lock and key, without armed guards, in a basement building!
Some scientists are questioning whether the research should ever have been done in a university lab, instead of at a secure military facility. Perhaps they should be asking if this should ever have happened at all! The worry is that if they create something this deadly and it becomes a truly global pandemic, the mortality and cost to the world could be massive. And experimental viruses kept in seemingly secure laboratories have escaped in the past eg: a 1977 flu outbreak.
Ron Fouchier, the Dutch virologist who lead the team, once described his work as "really, really stupid," but ultimately useful for the development of vaccines.
Yeup, really, really REALLY stupid...!

PS: 23 Jan.2012 - China reports a second bird flu death in a month.
PS: 24 Jan.2012 - Scientists have suspended their H5N1 research amidst growing security fears.

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