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Dec 21 2011

What could possibly go wrong?

Scientists working in high security labs in the US and the Netherlands managed to create a deadly strain of flu virus. The artificial bug has traits that would make it a real weapon of mass destruction if it were released:

(FoxNews) — On Tuesday, federal officials took the unprecedented step of asking those scientists not to publicize all the details of how they did it.The worry: That this research with lots of potential to help the public might also be hijacked by would-be bioterrorists. The labs found that it appears easier than scientists had thought for the so-called H5N1 bird flu to evolve in a way that lets it spread easily between at least some mammals.

The problem is, it’s probably not that hard to figure out how they did it. A little knowledge of basic genetic engineering and equipment any half-ass nation could acquire — if they don’t have it already — combined with samples of two or more strains of flu to work with, would be a great start. Throw in people who don’t care if they live or die anyway and viola, next thing you know its 28 days later …

Maybe we should just treat this like right-wing nutjobs treat climate change. Look, we might say, nature creates deadly strains of disease all the time. It’s been happening for since the earth was, created 6000 years ago, and it will happen in the future through a process called microevolution, and we can’t stop it. It’ll happen no matter what. So let’s just mass produce this little critter and put it in school lunches! Think of the jobs!

9 comments

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  1. 1
    davidct

    All we have to do is roll out the homeopathic treatments.

    It is easy to make the new disease now there is all the more incentive to find a way to make a more universal vaccine. With all the hype from the anti-vax wingnuts this could be neglected.

  2. 2
    memsomerville

    Actually, ferrets did it.

    I thought a lot about these papers when the drama was brewing. I wasn’t sure which side I was on. The discussion was valuable. In the end, though, I’m with Vincent Racaniello (virus researcher). Should be published. For me the balance was that the mutations are key to recognize if the virus changes in the wild–public health teams need to know what they are. There’s more value in the safety aspect than there is risk in the nefarious use.

    Laurie Garrett did a great piece in Foreign Policy on this. It was clear how easy it was to get to here with the ferrets. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/12/14/the_bioterrorist_next_door?page=0,0

    Another fascinating aspect of this, though, is that the “information is free” crowd has been bumping into exceptions lately. This, and the Amazon shopping app. Suddenly the realities of “information is free” and transparency are butting into areas they hadn’t thought through. Also a good discussion.

  3. 3
    raymoscow

    Captain Trips could indeed do wonders for the unemployment, overpopulation and pollution problems.

  4. 4
    The Lorax

    Now if only we could make a virus that targets stupid. Believe we’d save the human race, we would.

  5. 5
    Trebuchet

    Stephen, I think you meant “voila”, not “viola”.

  6. 6
    noastronomer

    “Now if only we could make a virus that targets stupid. Believe we’d save the human race, we would.”

    Don’t know ’bout that. A virus that targets stupid could easily wipe out the entire human race. The rest of the planet then breathes a collective sigh of relief.

  7. 7
    herp

    This feels an awful lot like the pox virus episode they had in Australia many years ago with respect to the growing rabbit population. There they made a pox virus that essentially tricked the immune system into not fighting it. The virus killed ~90% of the population of rabbits. Now the rabbits are back and the virus is ineffective. Goes to show how adaptive a population can be to such a drastic and disastrous event.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone is willing a 60% mortality rate for humans. Personally, I think there is nothing that can be done to block the information. The more pressing matter then would be to monitor those that have the capabilities to make a large enough stockpile of virus.

  8. 8
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    Step 3: Spreads like the common cold, often fatal, leaves some survivors permanently damaged–sounds like SARS. I’m so glad the Ontario government treated it with the respect it deserved.

  9. 9
    vltava

    Yes, a viola is a stringed instrument. Voilà is French for “there it is”.

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