Foreign Correspondent - Building the Perfect Bug
It sounds like a benign coordinate or reference number but make no mistake H5N1 is far from benign. It’s an influenza virus ruthlessly efficient at killing those unfortunate enough to encounter it. You can’t catch it like conventional flu, victims contract it by eating poultry infected with the bug.
But global health authorities know that viruses mutate and evolve and fear a version of the bird flu that someday can be caught atmospherically - a sneeze on the subway, a cough in a crowd.
Scientists haven’t waited for nature to contrive this version of H5N1. They’ve made it themselves. Two separate research projects – one in The Netherlands and the other in the US – engineered a version of bird flu that can be transmitted atmospherically. Rotterdam researchers mutated the virus in an experiment using ferrets and the results were devastating.
The research has not only divided the scientific community but it’s also enraged global security agencies concerned about bio-terrorism. Can the world be sure the labs involved in this work were as secure as they should be? Should the two research projects be allowed to publish their findings, including, effectively, the recipe for the mutated virus?
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