Who do these guys think they are, the Dr. Frankensteins of virology?
First, two teams of virologists created more dangerous versions of the deadly H5N1 flu. Now they want to give the H7N9 virus, which has already sickened at least 134 people and killed 43 people in Asia, a few new capabilities: drug-resistance, faster transmission between people and the ability to sneak past the immune system.
Flu researchers Ron Fouchier, of the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, and Yoshihiro Kawaoka, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote up a whole list of risky experiments they’re starting with the new H7N9 bird flu and then published their plans Wednesday in both Science and Nature. About 20 other scientists also signed the letters.
The proposed studies would essentially create a recipe for a superflu. Some scientists worry that these strains could escape the lab and possibly kill millions — or get in the hands of the wrong people.
Fouchier concedes that some of the experiments are dangerous. But he says, the information gleaned from these superflus is critical for determining whether H7N9 has the potential to trigger a pandemic, like the Spanish flu in 1918 or the swine flu in 2009.
Photo by of a chicken thought to have H5N1 by Prakas Mathema/AFP/Getty Images