Surprising Twist in Debate Over Lab-Made H5N1

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Science  09 Mar 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6073, pp. 1155-1156
DOI: 10.1126/science.335.6073.1155

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For the past several months, the media, the public, scientific groups, and a key U.S. government advisory panel on biosecurity have wrestled with how to deal with two unpublished studies they thought described the creation of a bird flu virus capable of triggering an influenza pandemic with the potential to kill millions of people. Now, a researcher who created one of the H5N1 mutants and a leading U.S. health official are offering clarifications and "new data" to better gauge the risk it presents. The researcher revealed that the virus made in his lab does not kill ferrets infected by the aerosol route. And it is more difficult to transmit the virus than previously described. These revelations promise to influence—although certainly not end—a contentious debate about whether to publish details about this virus and a second, related one that's less virulent.

  • * With reporting by David Malakoff.