Quick! Duct tape your windows!

When you hear the news piece about the scientists who “made the deadly flu virus” and the US government’s request to partially censor the publication, know this:

(1) they only showed that the recombinant virus transmitted between ferrets, not humans, not even primates.  Even a clever terrorist would need several years, a large budget and lots of terrorist graduate students to take this to the next step.

(2) if they could do it in a laboratory that means that Natural Selection will at some point do it out in the wild.  Other scientists need to know EXACTLY what they did so it can be studied and we know what to look for in the wild,

(3) what they did could have just made it easier to generate an effective H5N1 vaccine,

(4)  efforts to give the government the power and responsibility of releasing the redacted data and methods to “responsible influenza researchers” is misguided and, given the government’s ability to keep secretes, increases the chances it will end up in clever-well-funded-terrorist-PIs hands.  Not to mention the fact that some of the most important advances occur when researchers cross into other fields where they are not the expert.

(5)  ignorance does not protect anybody worth protecting.  There is a very clever analogy to gun-control here, but I refuse to compare knowledge to something that kills.

UPDATE (5/14/12) – It turns out (when this finally got published), they werent’ even using an H5N1 virus… they were studying a recombinant H1N1 virus containing an H5 NA gene…so mostly an H1N1.  Big difference.

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About SubOptimist

I am an Associate Professor in the Science Department at Georgia Perimeter College, Clarkston. I teach introductory biology courses at both the majors and non-majors level in addition to microbiology. Previous to that I spent 7 years as a postdoctoral researcher on different viruses. While I don't miss being on the "grant treadmill", I think better when I write and miss writing up data for papers and grants; this blog helps me with that a little. And sometimes my kids' insanely funny and cute antics need to be shared with the world. Any view expressed in this blog is that of me personally and not Georgia Perimeter College or the GPC Clarkston Science Department.
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2 Responses to Quick! Duct tape your windows!

  1. Terrorist graduate students? Really, Dr. M.?

  2. SubOptimist says:

    Your right, that is implausible. Even a Terrorist PI wouldn’t give this project to a graduate student. Undergraduates are given the riskiest projects. I switch my answer to Terrorist Undergraduates.

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