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Paper On Super Flu Strain May Be Banned From Publication 754

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the secret-dolphin-plot-to-overthrow-opressors dept.
Pierre Bezukhov writes with this excerpt from an article at Doctor Tipster: "A Dutch researcher has created a virus with the potential to kill half of the planet's population. Now, researchers and experts in bioterrorism debate whether it is a good idea to publish the virus creation 'recipe'. However, several voices argue that such research should have not happened in the first place. The virus is a strain of avian influenza H5N1 genetically modified to be extremely contagious ... created by researcher Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Center Rotterdam, Netherlands. The work was first presented at a conference dedicated to influenza that took place in September in Malta."
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Paper On Super Flu Strain May Be Banned From Publication

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  • Re:Peh. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 28, 2011 @09:25PM (#38197352)

    If it got out the 'fix' may be natural selection.

  • by Hartree (191324) on Monday November 28, 2011 @09:40PM (#38197518)

    Exactly. The important info was that the strain can be made to be transmissible by air in mammals.

    That was an open question, and some felt that it was unlikely. Now, it's known that it can be done.

    If you know that it can be done, there are only a limited number of ways it could have been done. Now, you just have to figure out which. They even outline the basic idea in several places.

    It looks like it was a pretty standard method of passing the virus repeatedly through ferrets to select for those variants best adapted.

    There may be a few nuances, but now that it's been done just about any lab that works on that strain with ferrets for test animals can probably repeat the work even without further info.

  • by spmkk (528421) on Monday November 28, 2011 @09:48PM (#38197604)

    Its better that it got out and fixes are prepared.

    Sure - AS LONG AS the "fixes" (e.g. antidote or vaccine) are engineered, produced and ready for distribution BEFORE such info gets out.

    Moreover, if you're going to take the prerogative of developing a bioweapon with the capability of causing mass casualties, it's also your responsibility to secure funding for inoculating or treating everyone affected. Just recently there was an outcry here [slashdot.org] about the government spending $433M on smallpox treatment in the event of an outbreak. If this is as dangerous as they claim, the treatment cost would be orders of magnitude higher than that. The UN will inevitably come to Washington cap in hand, but we're broke. Who's going to pay for it?

  • by artor3 (1344997) on Monday November 28, 2011 @09:50PM (#38197624)

    If you stop research because you are afraid that terrorists might use it, you would have to stop all research of any kind.

    That's a nice soundbite, but somehow I find myself opposed to giving terrorists weaponized super-flus, while at the same time not being so worried about them getting access to the latest touch screen technology. I mean, we've already stopped research into human vivisection, and that didn't require us to stop "research of any kind".

    Just a thought, but maybe we can take a step outside of the world of black and white you're painting, and allow all research except that which could destroy human civilization?

  • Re:Too late (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dr. Spork (142693) on Monday November 28, 2011 @10:22PM (#38197898)
    If this sort of "spoiler" is enough to give away the game, then we better had not be relying on more security by obscurity! Let's replicate the research in "white hat" labs and develop a patch (vaccine) ASAP!
  • Re:Peh. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by chrb (1083577) on Monday November 28, 2011 @10:27PM (#38197942)
    A modified version of the flu isn't much use to the military, for the same reasons that bio-weapons in general aren't much use: they are unreliable in war, attack an overly-broad segment of the population, and liable to spread contagion amongst friend and foe alike. They aren't much use for terrorists either: the majority of terrorism is geo-political in nature ("we want our land", "we want a different government", "stop hurting our friends" etc.). Terrorists generally want to target specific sub-populations of the human species, whether that sub-population be defined by nationality, ethnicity, wealth etc. Weapons that attack everybody equally are not really useful for that purpose. The exception here is Doomsday cults, who do exist, but represent a very small percentage of the world's population. We can only hope that they do not get the resources necessary to genetically engineer a high-lethality virus.
  • by chrb (1083577) on Monday November 28, 2011 @10:37PM (#38198020)

    It is a question of how you define "strong". A more accurate saying would be, "What kills people but spares those with certain characteristics, increases the ratio of people with those characteristics in the general population." H5N1 kills the young and healthy, and spares the weak and elderly, just like the Spanish Flu:

    "Another unusual feature of this pandemic was that it mostly killed young adults, with 99% of pandemic influenza deaths occurring in people under 65, and more than half in young adults 20 to 40 years old. wiki [wikipedia.org]).

    Increased mortality in young and healthy people is attributed to a stronger cytokine response from the immune system wiki [wikipedia.org]:

    "It is believed that cytokine storms were responsible for many of the deaths during the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed a disproportionate number of young adults.[1] In this case, a healthy immune system may have been a liability rather than an asset. Preliminary research results from Hong Kong also indicated this as the probable reason for many deaths during the SARS epidemic in 2003.[8] Human deaths from the bird flu H5N1 usually involve cytokine storms as well."

  • Re:Peh. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by chrb (1083577) on Monday November 28, 2011 @10:54PM (#38198142)

    There is no herd immunity to this. That is the whole point. It's actually surprising that this work finally got done; I remember reading at least 5 years ago about the debate raging over whether to engineer H5N1 to be contagious like human flu. The "for" argument was basically:

    Humans infected with H5N1 have high mortality,
    H5N1 was appearing in third world countries,
    in those countries animals and humans live in close physical proximity,
    All it would take was the transfer of a few genes coding for cell surface proteins to be transferred from human flu to H5N1 and it would become highly contagious,
    This transfer was highly likely to happen if a human was infected with human flu and H5N1 at the same time,
    Which is highly likely given the conditions in third world countries
    Therefore it is highly likely that this will happen at some point in the near future,
    Therefore we should do it in the lab now and research the resulting virus before the outbreak happens.

    The "against" argument was obviously that the resulting virus could potentially wipe out our species. Interesting debate!

  • by yodleboy (982200) on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:18PM (#38198294)
    you might want to read this: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/03/ff_anthrax_fbi/all/1 [wired.com]

    there's serious doubt, even among his colleagues that pointed the FBI in his direction, that he did it. Was it him? Was he a patsy? Was he even involved or did he just have a guilty look and happen to be in the right place at the wrong time.

    Really interesting read, and plenty of the facts can be found from other sources, I'm just too lazy tonite to find more links. mmm beer good. Read it, whether you still think he's guilty or not, you may learn some interesting stuff.
  • Re:Peh. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by maxwell demon (590494) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @04:05AM (#38199824) Journal

    Well, how long until a virus is created which only kills people with certain genetic traits, e.g. only those with or only those without a gene which causes high production of melatonin (that is, it either kills only black or only non-black people)? All it would take is to find the gene, and create a deadly mechanism which involves that gene. If you don't have that gene, you still get ill (and therefore contribute to the epidemic) but the illness is harmless (e.g. you get to sneeze a lot, but don't have any other negative effects). The same could be done for other genes (hair color, eye color, blood group, ...)

    Indeed, as soon as genetic knowledge is sufficiently advanced, it may even be possible to construct a virus which is deadly for exactly one person, while only mildly annoying for the rest of humanity.

  • Re:Peh. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Defenestrar (1773808) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @09:30AM (#38201194)

    On the flip side everyone would be able to meet carbon footprint treaties; more easily for cultures who bury their dead than burning it though...

    Oh, and with death rates likely much higher in the non-industrialized countries, the industrialized ones wouldn't have to worry about sharing resources with the up and coming whippersnappers. In fact, if you think it through, it's more likely that a disease like this (though it would cause massive economic damage) would actually strengthen the relative economic mastery of the industrialized nations over the less industrialized ones. So terrorists should take note that a weapon like this is rather short sided if they want to perturb the balance of power away from current industrialized states (identifiable as having lewd morals and a greater median net worth than the terrorist).

    P.S. - It's worth a try convincing them to look at the long road right? Maybe the sort of people who contemplate killing off half the worlds population are just looking for a more reasonable option.

    P.P.S. - If you are a terrorist like the sort mentioned in the P.S. you might want to contemplate economic superiority, technological superiority (put all that effort into science), or supporting the formation of democratic regions where your ideas can be publicly debated and made state policy when you have convinced the masses of your philosophies.

We warn the reader in advance that the proof presented here depends on a clever but highly unmotivated trick. -- Howard Anton, "Elementary Linear Algebra"

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