Let’s tell everyone how to make a virus that could kill millions!

November 26, 2011 by Amara D. Angelica

H5N1 virus (credit: Lennart Nilsson)

Here’s an idea: why don’t we just tell everybody in the world how to make an airborne H5N1 influenza virus strain (“bird flu”) that has been genetically altered to be easily transmissible (between ferrets, which mostly closely mimic the human response to flu), and which if released, could trigger an influenza pandemic, quite possibly with many millions of deaths?

OK, it seems like a totally evil idea, one that even Dr. Josef Mengele, the “angel of death,” probably wouldn’t have hatched. But not to virologist Dr. Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, who wants to publish a paper describing how he did it, Science Insider reveals.

Dr. Ron Fouchier: "probably one of the most dangerous viruses you can make"

Fouchier, whose research is funded by NIH, admits this is “probably one of the most dangerous viruses you can make,” but has already gone ahead and presented the study at a September meeting in Malta.

The paper he’s written — along with another one on H5N1, with comparable results, by a team led by virologist Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and the University of Tokyo — is currently under review by the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), which could recommend it not be published, but has no authority to block it.

“The specter of an H5N1 pandemic keeps flu scientists up at night because of the virus’ power to kill,” warns Science Insider. “Of the known cases so far, more than half were fatal.”

Insane or not?