In DepthBiosecurity

Labmade smallpox is possible, study shows

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Science  14 Jul 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6347, pp. 115-116
DOI: 10.1126/science.357.6347.115

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Ever since virologists produced the poliovirus from scratch in 2002—triggering an intense debate about the risks of synthetic biology—researchers have said the same might be possible for the much bigger smallpox virus, which was eradicated in 1980. Now, they know for sure. A team led by virologist David Evans of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, has quietly synthesized horsepox from DNA fragments ordered online and delivered in the mail. The same strategy could be used to recreate variola, the virus that causes smallpox, researchers say. The unpublished study may put to rest discussions about whether to destroy the two remaining stocks of smallpox, but it has reopened the debate about how far research with dangerous pathogens should be allowed to go.