Weaponized H5N1 compared to atomic bomb's creation

A recent editorial published in the journal New Scientist compared the recent scientific experiments that created strains of bird flu transmissible through the air to the creation of the atomic bomb.

In the wrong hands, the viruses created independently by researchers from the Erasmus University in the Netherlands and the University of Wisconsin - Madison, could kill millions, according to NewScientist.com.

New Scientist acknowledges that the circumstances between the success of the Manhattan project and the experiments on H5N1 influenza are very different.

"Oppenheimer and his colleagues were trying to defeat tyranny," New Scientist said. "Fouchier and Kawaoka were motivated by a desire for knowledge that they argue will make the world safer.

"Fouchier and Kawaoka believe that understanding how the deadly H5N1 virus can become easily transmissible between people is crucial knowledge. Others argue that the experiments don't mimic what might happen in nature, and that the risks outweigh any benefits."

New Scientist added that the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity was not asked for its opinion until the two papers describing the research neared publication. Despite asking for censorship of key details, it remains unclear whether it is too late to neutralize any danger.

"While no one doubts the researchers' good intentions, one has to ask how the work progressed so far without a wider debate," according to New Scientist. "In 2007, NSABB drew up a framework for proactively weighing up the risks and benefits of experiments that might provide a recipe for bioterror."

The U.S. National Institutes of Health, which helped fund both experiments, recently said that the U.S. government would create a new policy to evaluate such research, though it has not provided any details as to what this means.

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