U.S. asks scientists to censor H5N1 mutation experiments

The U.S. government has asked scientists to censor portions of experiments that detail how the H5N1 bird flu can be mutated into a strain that could be highly infectious to humans.

Government officials are alarmed at the prospect that the information could be used by terrorists to create a biological weapon. They have asked for details of the experiments to be deleted from scientific manuscripts before their publication, according to The Independent.

Two groups of scientists, one in the United States and the other in the Netherlands, have submitted papers to the journals Nature and Science describing how they converted the bird flu virus into an airborne form that can be transmitted through coughs and sneezes.

Scientific advisors to the U.S. government recommended that certain portions of the experiments be redacted rather than have a complete ban.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health, which helped to fund the research, recently said that public health officials are concerned that the virus could evolve naturally into a form that passes easily between people.

"While the public health benefits of such research can be important, certain information obtained through such studies has the potential to be misused for harmful purposes," the NIH said, The Independent reports. "These manuscripts... concluded that the H5N1 virus has greater potential than previously believed to gain a dangerous capacity to be transmitted among mammals, including perhaps humans."

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