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Medicine Biotech

Paper On Super Flu Strain May Be Banned From Publication 754

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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  • by pesho ( 843750 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @09:42PM (#38197534)
    My thoughts exactly. If you know it can be done it is fairly trivial to make it happen. The only caveat is that if you are going to do it you better have a BSL4 containment. Otherwise you will end up eating your own dog food, before anyone else has had a chance to try it. The important information from this work as far as I can deduce from the limited information being released is that now we know what kind of changes can make the virus more aggressive. This can be used to monitor the virus in the wild and catch potential pandemics before the virus has jumped on humans. It will also give us head start in making vaccines. All this makes it imperative that it gets published.
  • by perpenso ( 1613749 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @09:49PM (#38197616)

    Someone has probably already crafted a similar version in a distant private or military research lab anyway. Its better that it got out and fixes are prepared.

    Actually various independently crafted versions may be different enough that a "cure" for one is ineffective against another.

  • by QuasiSteve ( 2042606 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @10:00PM (#38197704)

    This asshat's ego is what has caused [...] an engineered avian flu that can kill off half the planet's population

    Actually, that would be the NIH ( [] ), who requested that this research be done, funded it, etc.; []

    And really, I'd rather they do research it and find some manner of defense against it than that some actual 'asshats' figure it out and use it as a weapon first, or nature finds its own way to such a 'killer virus', without a defense in place.

    The only particularly troubling time is when these findings are made public, because among the "ZOMG WE'RE DOOMED" people like you there's always the chance that there's one complete nutcase who goes to such a research facility to try and disrupt the work - and inadvertently releases things into the wild with far worse consequences.

    That's not to say it shouldn't be made public - just that the designation of risk is often misplaced.

    Besides, the world doesn't hate scientists - if they did, the world should be largely Amish (actually, they don't even hate scientists, but their lifestyle would come close to one in which a society does hate scientists).

  • by forkfail ( 228161 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @10:02PM (#38197718)

    Remember that knowing something can be done is often 90% of the battle.

    So, while your assumption that they don't have it now may well be valid, it won't be in 5-10 years. Thus, probably a good idea to get the white hats working on counter measures now, which means (by your own logic) that it should be published.

  • by ohnocitizen ( 1951674 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @10:06PM (#38197746)

    Remember that knowing something can be done is often 90% of the battle.

    Someone doesn't remember their GI Joe math. Knowing is 50% of the battle.

  • Serial Passage (Score:5, Informative)

    by Guppy ( 12314 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @10:16PM (#38197842)

    This news has been bouncing around the biology world for a few days now. To add some perspective, the "super flu" was created via the technique known as Serial Passage [], developed by Louis Pasteur. Yup, that Louis Pasteur []. All you really need is a sufficiently large colony of ferrets, a source stock of H5N1, and some time -- there is not going to be any secret Atomic-Bomb recipe in the paper, the virus does the hard work itself, via evolution.

    Oh, and by the way... At one of the labs I used to work at, my fellow researchers once were chatting about what the various stereotypes for their colleagues were. I learned that the virologist stereotype among the other researchers was "a little bit crazy". Nightnight.

  • Re:Peh. (Score:5, Informative)

    by chrb ( 1083577 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @10:16PM (#38197854)

    disease like swine or bird flu that kills like 5 people

    You might want to read some history. 1918 flu pandemic []:

    "Between 50 and 100 million died, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.[4][5][6][7][8] Even using the lower estimate of 50 million people, 3% of the world's population (which was 1.86 billion at the time[9]) died of the disease. Some 500 million, or 27% (1/4), were infected."

  • Point of history: (Score:5, Informative)

    by Hartree ( 191324 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @10:22PM (#38197900)

    It was a bit more than the roads. Many of those "barbarians" that conquered Rome were themselves former Roman soldiers.

    Alaric was just one of many of them.

  • Re:Peh. (Score:5, Informative)

    by DJRumpy ( 1345787 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @10:52PM (#38198134)

    Yes but you must also take into account the globalization of the population in general. In 1918, we didn't have a jet set crowd, and a virus was limited to physical transmission based on how far an infected person could travel. In today's environment, it could easily spread worldwide in a day into heavily populated zones that are multitudes more dense (per capita) than anything that existed in 1918. Couple that with the fact that it could easily overwhelm the medical infrastructure in high population zones if it spreads fast enough. Just assuming that advances in medical science negate a virus is a false assumption as everything else is not equal in this scenario. Transmission rates and transmission range have changed drastically since the early 1900's.

  • Re:Peh. (Score:5, Informative)

    by monoqlith ( 610041 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:08PM (#38198234)

    And before you grew up(presumably), the 1918 flu pandemic killed literally tens of millions of people. Just because none of the flew strains that were carried in your youth were especially lethal doesn't mean that flu is some sort of inherently mild illness. It can be very dangerous.

  • Re:summary wrong (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dr. Eggman ( 932300 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:24PM (#38198348)
    I suspect that isn't the only overwrought element here. In my, admittedly limited, search I have yet to find reputable sources confirming any but the barest of details in this story; let alone "Kill Half Humanity" (Wikipedia's already infected, care of [].)

    The Canadian Press, which brings us the Winnipeg Free Press article, fails to provide anything real to back up its statements. I can't really follow it any more than looking up the organizations provided and looking for related news postings (of which I found none.) Subsequent searching leads me to a Gizmodo [] article (links provided for those who wish to follow my searches.) Of it, there are two meaningful citations (that is, not links to the about pages of the source in question.) Science Insider [] and a pdf [] announcement detailing the schedule of the September influenza conference in Malta, in which this announcement is quoted as having been made.

    The first thing I noticed within the pdf (aside from the garish design) is the absence of any announcement on GM influenza, (or Ron Fouchier, or his organization.) Admittedly, this hardly means this didn't occur; merely that this (what is essentially a flier) is not a meaningful source of information.

    As for the Science Insider, it provides few additional details, mostly regarding vaguely related discussions on the classification/pre-approval of these sorts of studies. The closest thing it provides to something interesting is a (Dutch language) greenlight [] for what is supposed to be Ron's project.

    Indeed, the Dutch link does concern GM influenza, and is an answer to a question on procedure for studying this sort of thing (of which they already apparently had a license to do.) It does not corroborate any of the stand out details of this article (how could it, considering it's from 2007.) Of minor note, there is no mention of ferrets; only standard embryonated [sic. Google Translation] chicken eggs.

    Color me skeptical, to say the least.
  • Re:Peh. (Score:5, Informative)

    by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Monday November 28, 2011 @11:36PM (#38198452)

    Then you can explain to me why those who are supposedly providing me "herd immunity" get visibly infected and sick on a regular basis, and I don't.

    Because vaccines only work against the particular illnesses one has been vaccinated against. They don't protect against other diseased. That's why your neighbours keep on getting sick with various lesser infections. And the more serious ones never come your way, due to herd immunity (which means everyone around you is immune, so there's none that could give you the disease, which is exactly what large-scale vaccinations provide - so why the quotes?).

    Luckily, you appear to have a naturally strong immune system, so you can deal with little stuff; unfortunately, it's gone to your head and made you think you could deal with something like polio too. Luckily, there's still enough vaccinated people that you're unlikely to have to put that hubris to test; unfortunately, there's a tipping point when there's enough unvaccinated people in the population for it to start spreading amongst them even if the general population is immune.

    In the meantime, try to avoid getting scatched by any rusty items - tetanus shots only last 10 years.

  • Re:Peh. (Score:5, Informative)

    by infinitelink ( 963279 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @12:28AM (#38198800) Homepage Journal

    Of further interest, it is sometimes those with the strong immune systems that die, rather than the weak. Various conditions provoke immune response that chemically eats at important organs and tissues, e.g. the recent flu that they warned was killing more 18-25 year old men than others: that is because 18-25 y.o. men have the strongest immune systems in general terms, and I do mean in the sense of strong/weak.

    What you did not mention is the distinction of immunity types, that is, specific vs. general immunity; a body that is unable to immediately react to a new threat with a precise, targeted approach can do so through chemical warfare: unfortunately it can also burn itself within in this way; the weapons of this warfare are hydrolytic enzymes, bleach, hydrogen peroxide, and a myriad of other goodies that you would not dare drink, and having a generally strong trait for nonspecific immunity means that with 'bugs' that are really provocative, viral or otherwise, can cause your own strength to finish you off.

    The first stage of immunity usually is a clear cut strong/weak scenario, and frequently this turns out well, at least in the modern era of antibiotics to make overresponse unnecessary as the body finds a slowed, dying, or severely weakened threat, but with viruses (far less treatable), and especially novel variants (the more novel, the worse), the response can often be catastrophic. Of course that clear-cut sense of "strong/weak" is restricted to general (nonspecific) type response rather than specific response (i.e. already having antibodies to an intruder), and is the basest sense of force/hostility/violence that people use those terms, in this case with regards inundation (churning out) the goodies as opposed perhaps to a light spray; then of course the simplicity soons begins to fail when one considers the interaction between infected cells and their environment to attract the bombers, and even between them and the leukocytes directly to hand over proteins to go make antibodies...

    Of course "go make antibodies" is inaccurate if taken to imply that the cells who receive proteins from infected cells are the actual makers, actually...

    Oh whatever. Not speaking about general or nonspecific immune response vs. specific or targeted immunity, and comparing the immune system in general to antivirus software for computing 'health', shows that you obviously know nothing. : )

    p.s. I do mean it as a chide rather than really trying to be adversarial, okay?

  • Re:Peh. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Michael Woodhams ( 112247 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @12:51AM (#38198934) Journal

    What stopped it from being just as deadly?

    No, it wasn't living conditions. For avian flu, it is because it isn't very contagious to people. For swine flu, it just wasn't any more deadly than ordinary flu (even in places where living conditions are poor.)

  • Re:Peh. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Fjandr ( 66656 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @01:26AM (#38199148) Homepage Journal

    Someone infected with the 1918 flu strain has a significantly better chance of recovery under modern medical care than their 1918 counterpart.

    Change that to "marginally better" and I might agree with you. There is still no effective treatment against a cytokine storm reaction, which is what primarily killed people in 1918. All current treatments are still experimental.

    There might be marginal cases where better monitoring would have resulted in fewer deaths, but the vast majority would find no better help with current medical technology.

  • Re:Peh. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Surt ( 22457 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @02:29AM (#38199476) Homepage Journal

    Best post in the thread, but I bet 90% of the audience doesn't get it. Hopefully the 10% will be mods.

  • by Stonefish ( 210962 ) on Tuesday November 29, 2011 @07:23AM (#38200518)

    There are a couple of points related to this.
    1 You're not particularly good at assessing risk. Do the maths on people killed by disease and people killed by terrorists
    2 There is a history of the flu virus turning lethal. Spanish flu and earlier history of extremely deadly pandemics.
    3 This study demonstrates breeding a better pathogen using natural means using traits that already exist.
    4 Vaccines for flu type virus are very effective.
    5 Exposure to a similar flu virus or vaccine confers some immunity.
    6 Agents that boost the immune response to vaccines confer an even broader immunity

    The point is that government should be preparing broad spectum bird flu vaccines and allowing people to put their hands up to get them as the risk of this type of virus arising naturally is high. This study demonstrates this are fact.

    CSIRO, an Australian research organisation released research relating to mouse pox virus modifications that created a deadly virus precisely because it was hoped that it would lead to better treatments. They also surmised that governments around the world already knew about this but had kept it secret.

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