Weaponized H5N1 creators fight back

The creators of a virulent strain of H5N1 influenza transmissible to humans recently asserted that while it may be appropriate not to publish portions of their research, it was inappropriate for the United States to act alone in requesting its censorship.

Ron Fouchier of the University of Erasmus and fellow virologist AB Osterhaus had their views published in the journal Nature Magazine, according to RT.com.

Fouchier said he initially wanted to publish his research into avian influenza in order to help the world prepare for a potential outbreak of the artificially-created virus. Fouchier agreed to remove portions of the paper after the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity expressed concern that it could be used for nefarious purposes.

"We are not questioning the unprecedented recommendations last month from the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity to remove key details from the methods and results sections of published papers, including our own, submitted to Science," Fouchier and Osterhaus wrote, RT.com reports. "But we do question whether it is appropriate to have one country dominate a discussion that has an impact on scientists and public-health officials worldwide."

The scientists agree that the outcome of an international debate would be more difficult to predict because opinions are more likely to vary globally. Many European experts, for example, have argued for the research to be published in full.

John Steinbruner, the director for Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, agrees with Fouchier and Osterhaus that the United States should not be able to dictate what can and cannot be published by scientists around the world. He recently proposed that the World Health Organization serve to regulate the publication of potentially dangerous material.

"I believe that the entire process must be regulated by a global health body, ideally the World Health Organization," Steinbruner wrote, RT.com reports. "Already, a WHO committee oversees all research involving the smallpox virus. A similar, more developed system could work for H5N1 and other deadly pathogens."

The artificially created virus, unlike its naturally-occurring counterpart, is highly contagious to humans and has a mortality rate of 50 percent. It was developed by infecting ferrets with the avian H5N1 virus. In 10 generations, the virus mutated into an airborne form.