Thursday, December 15, 2011

Referral: Laurie Garrett On The Bird Flu Research Controversy


BSL-4 Lab Worker - Photo Credit –USAMRIID


# 6013



Laurie Garrett, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist (1996 for her series on Ebola) and  author of 3 books (including The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance), has a long and worthwhile article published on the Foreign Policy website today on the controversy over genetic experimentation with the H5N1 virus.


In attempts to learn what evolutionary steps are necessary for the H5N1 bird flu virus to mutate into a pandemic strain, scientists around the world have been working to create new laboratory strains and testing them for biological fitness and virulence.


Last September, one of the best known researchers in the world - Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam - revealed at a scientific conference that he’d managed to turn H5N1 into a virulent, and easily transmissible (among ferrets, anyway) pathogen.


(You can read about this work in Katherine Harmon’s Sci-Am article and in a follow up to this story in New Scientist: Five Easy Mutations.)

While still unpublished, there are growing concerns over the wisdom of conducting research like this, and its eventual publication.


Some fear that this knowledge could be used by bioterrorists to engineer a bio-weapon (see NPR: Bio-Terrorism Concerns Over Bird Flu Research).


Erasmus University provided their side of this discussion late last month, which I blogged on in The Bird Flu Research Debate Continues.


Over the past month the debate has intensified, and today Laurie Garrett adds her voice to the mix.


I’ll just step aside and invite you to read:


The Bioterrorist Next Door

Man-made killer bird flu is here.  Can -- should -- governments try to stop it?


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