Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bird flu: Research row as US raises terror fears

The authors of two controversial bird flu studies have reportedly agreed to a US request to redact key details after a government advisory panel suggested the data could be used by terrorists.
The papers show how a bird flu variant can pass easily between ferrets.
Editors at the journals Science and Nature say they will not agree to the redactions until they are assured the data will be accessible to researchers.
A spokesman for US health authorities said such a system was being prepared.
At least one set of scientists have already rewritten their paper in light of the recommendation, Science reports.
Albert Osterhaus told Science his team "completely disagreed" with the recommendation of the panel, the the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB).
But Mr Osterhaus, who believes the information should be made widely available, said an editorial explaining his team's "genuflection" to the panel is a condition of the paper's publication in Science.
A second research team at the University of Wisconsin, Madison is also reluctantly submitting a revised paper to Nature, a university spokesman confirmed to Science.
'Bona fide need' While bird flu is deadly, its reach has been limited because it is not transmissible between humans.
However, the flu virus was altered in the new studies to be passed easily between ferrets.
Those mutations mean the flu would have "greater potential" to be contagious among humans, the NSABB said in a statement on Tuesday.
The lab-created version, the board warned, represented an "extremely serious global public health threat".
The NSABB recommended that the "general conclusions" be published but that final manuscripts not include details that "could enable replication of the experiments by those who would seek to do harm".
Editors at Nature and Science said they wanted a clearer plan from the US government about how the potentially redacted data could be used by "all those responsible scientists who request it".
"Many scientists within the influenza community have a bona fide need to know the details of this research in order to protect the public, especially if they currently are working with related strains of the virus," Science editor-in-chief Bruce Alberts said.
Mr Alberts said the magazine's response would be "heavily dependent upon the further steps taken by the US government to set forth a written, transparent plan" to ensure the(...)Read more.

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