NSABB calls for international biosecurity guidelines

The top U.S. government biosecurity committee recently called for the development of international guidelines to guide research on dangerous flu strains.

In the wake of the controversy surrounding the publication of studies by two independent teams who created strains of H5N1 influenza transmissible in ferrets, the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity proposed talks to draft global guidelines for conducting and communicating potentially dangerous work, according to NewScientist.com.

"The US government and others are going to have to come up with a credible plan for limited distribution of information, when the next, last-minute review points to the need for this," David Relman of Stanford University said, NewScientist.com reports.

The NSABB originally requested that some of the results of the two studies not be published. In early April, the advisory board reversed its original findings in light of more information supplied about the results and ramifications of the work.

Relman was one of six members of the NSABB who did not vote for the reversal. The dissenters said that the research could enable misuse. They pointed out that the new strains are airborne and just as pathogenic as the parent H5N1 strain.

Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota also dissented. In a confidential letter leaked to the journal Science, Osterholm said that the new information presented to the board was biased towards publication. He said that the board did not consider the chances that well-meaning scientists could attempt to repeat the experiments without adequate biosafety measures.