NPR : News

Filed Under:

Researchers Agree To Temporary Halt For Bird Flu Experiments

Scientists have said that they are voluntarily putting some controversial bird flu research on hold.

The move to suspend the work for 60 days comes in response to critics who say their work is dangerous.

People rarely get sick with bird flu, caused by the H5N1 virus, and when they do, they're generally not contagious.

But researchers wanted to know if this potentially deadly virus might evolve and start a dangerous pandemic. So they tweaked its genes and made viruses that spread more easily between lab animals.

Critics say that was irresponsible, in part because these now transmissible viruses might escape from the lab.

The scientists who did the work, as well as other flu experts from around the world, have just published a letter on the decision in two major research journals — Science and Nature.

"We recognize that we and the rest of the scientific community need to clearly explain the benefits of this important research and the measures taken to minimize its possible risks," the researchers write in the letter. "We propose to do so in an international forum in which the scientific community comes together to discuss and debate these issues."

During the pause, they say they will do no experiments with the lab-altered viruses, and they won't create any more like them.

Reports on the initial results and the possibility they might be published raised alarms about bioterrorism. "It's just a bad idea for scientists to turn a lethal virus into a lethal and highly contagious virus," Dr. Thomas Inglesby, a bioterrorism specialist and director of the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center told NPR in November. "And it's a second bad idea for them to publish how they did it so others can copy it."

In December, a federal advisory panel said key details of the work shouldn't be published.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

'Baskets' Takes Zach Galifianakis From French Clown School To The Rodeo Ring

The comic, who plays a rodeo clown in his new FX comedy series, says he is "not creeped out by clowns." Galifianakis is also the creator of the Emmy Award-winning web comedy series Between Two Ferns.
NPR

The Shocking Truth About America's Ethanol Law: It Doesn't Matter (For Now)

Ted Cruz doesn't like the law that requires the use of ethanol in gasoline. So what would happen if it was abolished? The surprising answer: not much, probably.
NPR

Chris Christie To Drop Out Of Republican Race For President

The New Jersey governor may simply have missed his window by declining to run in 2012. Christie threw everything at getting traction in Iowa and New Hampshire but fell short in both.
NPR

Twitter Tries A New Kind Of Timeline By Predicting What May Interest You

Twitter has struggled to attract new users. Its latest effort at rejuvenation is a new kind of timeline that predicts which older posts you might not want to miss and displays them on top.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.