Policy ForumPublic Health and BIosecurity

The Limits of Government Regulation of Science

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Science  02 Mar 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6072, pp. 1047-1049
DOI: 10.1126/science.1219215

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Summary

Last summer, two research teams funded by the National Institutes of Health genetically modified H5N1 avian influenza viruses, making them capable of efficient respiratory transmission between ferrets. Ferrets are thought to be a good animal model for influenza in humans. A small number of genetic changes might be able to convert the presently zoonotic H5N1 virus into a pathogen with dangerous pandemic potential—transmissible from human-to-human, with a >50% case-fatality rate. The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), which advises the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), recommended that two journals, Science and Nature, redact key information before publication. The NSABB and HHS expressed concerns that published details about the papers' methodology and results could become a blueprint for bioterrorism (1).