Huge risk or sensible precaution? Scientists in a flap over whether bird flu experiments are safe

Thursday, August 8, 2013
By Paul Martin

Critics have called for a freeze on public spending for ‘irresponsible’ research


The scientists who carried out controversial experiments to deliberately mutate avian flu into a more transmissible form have declared that they now intend to carry out similar research on another strain of bird-flu that has recently infected more than 100 people in China.

Such experiments are necessary to understand what it takes to turn avian flu into a highly transmissible virus that could cause a global human pandemic, the researchers claim in a joint letter to the journals Nature and Science.

However, other scientists outside the influenza community have criticised the decision on the grounds that the experiments pose a substantial risk of an accidental release of a highly virulent and pandemic strain of flu virus from a laboratory.

Critics of the proposal said that the arguments put forward by the 22 scientists who have signed the letter are not supported by scientific evidence and are based on unfounded claims. They have called for a freeze on public funding for such research.

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