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Medicine Science

Details of the Second Controversial Mutant Bird Flu Study Finally Published 78

An anonymous reader writes "The second of the two controversial bird flu studies once considered too risky to publish in fears that they would trigger a potentially devastating global influenza epidemic was published Thursday. The study describes how scientists created H5N1 virus strains that could become capable of airborne transmission between mammals. Scientists said that the findings, which had been censored for half a year, could help them detect dangerous virus strains in nature."
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Details of the Second Controversial Mutant Bird Flu Study Finally Published

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  • Again. (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by bmo ( 77928 )

    "could help them detect dangerous virus strains in nature."

    But since it's "woowoo scary" we bury this research in spite of the benefits.


    • by Anonymous Coward

      Dear Dr. Stupid,

      Did it ever occur to you that there might other ways to detect dangerous virus strains in nature besides weaponizing the avian flu? And then teaching the world how to do it?

      Maybe carrying a nuclear hand grenade isn't the best way to scare off muggers?

      xoxo, Anonymous

  • Just hope they don't call it Captain Tripps

  • by BenJeremy ( 181303 ) on Thursday June 21, 2012 @11:06PM (#40407175)

    WTF? That makes no sense. How does publishing a PAPER somehow unleash the virus? The research and work has already been done. Censoring or publishing the paper does nothing to affect, one way or another, whether the virus will mutate in this fashion.

    As for potential terrorism uses, there are plenty of other virulent diseases that can be weaponized, far easier, in crude labs.

    Frankly, I'd be more afraid of terrorists creating some disease that acts slowly, while spreading rapidly, across a narrow genotype. Think of the damage a virus that shuts down your kidneys completely, followed by other organs... over a couple of years time, while spreading as an airborne pathogen. Our health systems would be overtaxed, productivity would drop, it would be an economic disaster for the targeted areas.

    • by bmo ( 77928 ) on Thursday June 21, 2012 @11:20PM (#40407261)

      >WTF? That makes no sense. How does publishing a PAPER somehow unleash the virus?

      Because the powers that be that make these decisions know nothing about virology and everything about politics.

      These are the same idiots that call terrorists that try to explode their underpants "sophisticated" on national television.

      Sophisticated is what the USSR was doing up until the collapse - making nuclear weapons that could explode at a desired height above ground within a couple of meters accuracy in 3 dimensions and wipe out an entire city.

      Yet according to them, we should wet their pants over a paper or exploding underpants. The mental gymnastics of this sort of doublethink are olympic-class.


      • by bmo ( 77928 )

        I said: "Yet according to them, we should wet their pants"

        OUR, not THEIR.

        Daffy Duck: "Pronoun trouble"


        • by c0lo ( 1497653 )

          I said: "Yet according to them, we should wet their pants"

          OUR, not THEIR.

          It was truly better before publishing the errata.

          (I know, almost in the same category with erotic fantasy, but...) If needed, I would queue for day and nights if I knew I can legally wet their pants while they are wearing them. Heck, I'd do it multiple times.

          • by bmo ( 77928 )

            I'm right with ya there, brah. I'd be drinking beer in the queue, as it has Vitamin P.


            • "I drink a whiskey drink;
              I drink a chocolate drink;
              and when I have to pee
              I use the kitchen sink.

              I sing the song that reminds me I'm a urinating guy!"


      • by skine ( 1524819 )

        To quote Jon Stewart from his appearance on The O'Reilly Factor:

        "Let's look at the geniuses we're up against. Richard Reid was the airplane bomber. He tried to take that explosive and put it in his shoes. It took them eight years, and the plan they came up with in eight years is 'uhh... why don't we try sticking it under that guy's genitals?' That's what they did in eight years. They moved from the guy's shoes up to his underwear. And that's who we're up against."

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 21, 2012 @11:59PM (#40407447)

      Posting AC because I'm talking about work (and stupid things we discussed as work).

      When Kawaoka published, my lab got together and examined what it would take to actually build the virus. It was surprisingly easy--and I'm an undergraduate intern in a bacterial lab (but I am studying viro, hence my interest). We could do it within our tiny budget with no problem, and the professor said he thought his students could do it with the help of a textbook. Order the genetic code in snippets, stitch it together, make plasmid, express it. You could do that in your bedroom after dropping a few thousand dollars on basic, easy-to-use lab gear and custom genetic fragments.

      I'm not defending the censorship, which has been demonstrated again and again was utterly without merit, but I can understand why it happened.

      Kawaoka and Fouchier suffered because, partially at their own hand, their papers were initially misrepresented. Somehow, somewhere, someone said that all of their ferrets died of flu. This simply isn't true. This was therefore repeated and repeated until it became an 'official' rumor, largely because this isn't a statistic typically associated with flu. Because this was marked as potentially dangerous virus, the paper was reviewed by the NSABB (National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity). NSABB examines papers that may be of 'dual use'--useful to research and useful to terrorists. The NSABB *does* have trained virologists, but since NSABB is primarily appointed by present NSABB members from a pool of people who are interested in NSABB work, it's full of people who are in the biosecurity mindset. The NSABB, by the way, is a purely advisory board with no powers whatsoever.

      Their recommendation was basically 'let's wait and think more about this.' Therefore, the now-known harmless nature of the viruses suddenly became a secret. Kawaoka and Fouchier could have prevent this controversy by releasing their conclusion with no details, but they decided to play by the rules and not talk about anything.

      The blame is spread around a fair bit, but it stands most firmly on the NSABB's hesitance and gag order (or gag suggestion, I suppose). Personally (and a number of prominent virologists seem to agree), I think that the media's need for a story is the central problem, as it both took the bad facts about the results and repeated them, ultimately passing them on to NSABB.

      If this had been a nasty virus, this hype would be justified. Yes, we can make plague, 1918 flu, etc, in the lab, but we know those viruses. Without knowing that, for instance, oseltamivir kills these new viruses very easily, we were potentially faced with a novel virus with zero data as to how we could respond to it.

      As to releasing the cure before the paper, that's actually possible: the novel from the virus and data from the paper could have been handed over to federal (probably military) labs, who could have worked on a vaccine.

      If you have some hours to burn, check out for a lengthy but decent coverage by a few of the best-know virologists.

      • How exactly do you propose they would be able to test a vaccine for a virus that doesn't exist in the wild? How would you conduct human trials without the virus potentially getting into the wild?

        Here, we are going to inject you with this untested vaccine and then expose you to an heretofore unknown virus, oh and since this virus is unknown we expect you to stay quarantined off from all human contact until we are 100% sure the virus is completely eliminated from your system, or you die, in which case we w
      • by iter8 ( 742854 )
        I wish I had mod points today. You would get them all. Until this post, this has been a fact free discussion.
  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Thursday June 21, 2012 @11:27PM (#40407301) Journal
    other terrorists to make this? IT IS TRIVIAL. In fact, it is CHEAP to do, esp. compared to all of their other ideas.

    So, how do you do it? You get allies to work in chicken farms in Indonesia, China, Vietnam, etc. These are all the places in which H5N1 variants are active. Wait until the farm has it (and right now, about 5-10% of the farms get it EACH YEAR). Once a place has it, take samples from the various chickens and take it back to Pakistan. spin down the blood, removing the blood cells and then inject it into a person (oddly, better to inject it into a child or old person; Avian operates different than other virus). Once they have it, expose them to normal airborne human flu. IOW, you are turning a human into a viral incubator. At that time, take samples of the person to hold aside, while you have 10-15 humans (knowing AQ, probably women) wait on the incubator. Spend a lot of time with them for the next 5-10 days. If somebody becomes infected, draw a number of samples from them, while allowing them to infect several other ppl. If the first set of waitors die from the infection, then you very likely have an airborne avian flu.

    At that time, keep the infections going for a bit, but ideally, add in swine flu. The spanish flu that stopped WWI, was apparently a combination of Avian, Swine, and Human flu. Regardless, the original mixture is enough, but if you go with several more levels, you can make it even more lethal.

    At that time, draw blood over the course of a couple of days from current incubators, spin it down to remove blood cells, mix, and then break apart into 1MM vials. That is enough to turn any human that is injected with it into a typhoid mary. Send them into airports, sporting events, malls, etc. Do it during the early phase when it is shedding, but not showing much symptoms of morbidity. Upon the person showing too many signs, pull them in, allow them to die in a quiet apartment and then dispose. Repeat with new person.

    So, why did I post this? To point out how trivial it is to create this. More importantly, to point out that AQ has some nice and easy means of doing this. The question is, what stops them? Their enmens (sp). These ppl will say no to this. At some point, as AQ gets to the end of losing their war, they will disregard and do this. At that time, I hope that we are ready. Otherwise, it is possible that the spanish flu will be nothing more than a sniffle compared to what this will do.
    • by bmo ( 77928 ) on Thursday June 21, 2012 @11:32PM (#40407313)

      Yet AQ cannot even get someone's underpants to explode correctly.


      • That is actually a LOT harder. They are trying to teach ppl REMOTELYhow to manufacturer bombs from multiple household chemicals that require loads of works to get them pure enough. Then you have to build a detonator (actually, the easy part). You have to explain how to sneak it into the airport and handle the stuff CAREFULLY (best way is to have somebody else do all of these steps since detectors can pick up a number of chemicals on clothing/skin). Finally, you are taking a person that is NOT really ready t
    • by iter8 ( 742854 )
      Something similar to that experiment is done every year. In many parts of the world people live in crowded conditions with close contact to pigs and chickens. A small number of people become infected with H5N1. A few die, most don't. If you did the experiment that you describe, you will probably end up with results similar those in the paper - people would get ill; maybe a few would die, probably from Al Qaeda medical care. If you want to be a terrorist, cheap explosives are more cost effective.
      • As BMO said, even a simple terrorists could not get it right. Explosives are HARD. VERY HARD. handle them wrong, and they blow up early (plenty of ppl are proof of that). Do not do them right, and they do not blow up at all (ask the shoe and underwear bombers). Things like Military made explosions work because they were built under lab and factory specs. The chemicals went in PRECISELY. IOW, the chemists and techs know exactly how they will behave. But homemade explosives from every-day chemicals? Lots of
    • Didn't someone (?Iran?) do this in a Tom Clancy book? IIRC they used aerosol distribution put it into AC system at trade shows who then all got onto airplanes.
  • 6 months? Big deal. That's just the normal delay to get something published in a peer reviewed journal. For some journals it can take up to a year.

  • RTFA! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PhilistineGuillotine ( 2633149 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @02:02AM (#40408241)
    Clearly those panicking did not bother to read even the abstract. Not a single ferret died from airborne transmission which is how this flu would spread. It's not even clear whether this new kind of flu would be more dangerous than the present wild type flu viruses, which kill many people every year. Why on Earth are there so many people freaking out about what these scientists have done?
  • ... why do we even bother? You know what... everyone get a nuke, everyone weaponize your virus of choice... why bother trying to preserve any semblance of world peace. Lets just nuke each other and get it over with...

    Fire up the virology labs... lets make doomsday bugs. Sure billions might die but it's in the cause of science... and of course, lets tell every tin pot psychotic dictatorship how to make it.

  • Unanswered questions (Score:3, Interesting)

    by miketheanimal ( 914328 ) on Friday June 22, 2012 @07:41AM (#40409707)
    Back when H5N1 was doing the rounds, my wife had a long running worse-than-average but not debilitating chest infection which came and went over two or three months; I had something pretty similar; and lots of people we know and work with had much the same. But none of us or them were ever diagnosed as having H5N1, because none of us got bad enough to see a doctor. My wife (a biologist who worked in an immunological research laboratory a while back) thinks that the H5N1 infection rate was really much much higher than it was supposed to be, but the infection was much much less severe than H5N1 was hyped to be in all those cases. If she's right - and it seems pretty plausible to me - then H5N1 was just not the risk it was painted as. Granted it was nastier than the average flu bug, but nothing like governments would have us believe. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?
  • to share the data. This fear mongering around the virus research is very similar to the state of mind that existed around symmetric crypto before AES came along. Open sourcing this study material will bring the best minds around the world to work on mitigating a potential epidemic. We can only hope its not too late, humanity has already lost half a year's time as a result of the decision to withhold the results. In fact, this censorship may have done more harm than good by bringing even more media a
    • Excuse the noob question, but can anyone tell me what happened to the formatting in my post? It looked fine in Notepad++ & when I pasted it into Slashdot!

When you are working hard, get up and retch every so often.