Dutch Researcher Created A Super-Influenza Virus With The Potential To Kill Millions
Friday, December 9, 2011
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. It was 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.
Avian influenza emerged in Asia about 10 years ago. Since then there were fewer than 600 infection cases reported in humans. On the other hand, Fouchier’s genetically modified strain is extremely contagious and dangerous, killing about 50% of infected patients. The former strain did not represent a global threat, as transmission from human to human is rare. Or, at least, it was before Fouchier genetically modified it.
Fouchier and his team used a pair of ferrets for testing because they react in similar ways as humans, when exposed to the flu virus. Researchers transmitted the deadly virus from one ferret to another, in order to make the virus more adaptable to a new host. After 10 generations, the virus has mutated allowing it to spread through air. The result was that ferrets could get sick just being near another infected animal.