Republicans may focus on biopreparedness for budget cuts

Concern is growing that Republican members of Congress may single out scientific research, particularly research into H5N1 avian influenza, as part of future spending cuts.

U.S. government officials are close to developing a series of procedures aimed at regulating funding for H5N1 research. Previous studies have resulted in potentially dangerous experiments that a U.S. government panel feared could be stolen by terrorists and used to make biological weapons, according to the journal Science.

The H5N1 strain is extremely virulent and has a high mortality rate - close to 60 percent, in humans. Though not highly transmissible between humans, it has killed more than 350 people across Europe, Africa and Asia. The avian flu mutates quickly, and experts fear if it alters into a transmissible strain, it could spell disaster, according to

The disease is considered so threatening in Asia that discoveries of its existence in domestic bird populations have led to the culling of millions of ducks, chickens and turkeys.

Some fear that as the U.S. government is heading in the right direction by offering to support research on H5N1 avian influenza, it will begin to head the other direction as the upcoming sequestration process continues and budget cuts are debated.

Several Republican lawmakers who have historically downplayed the importance of scientific research have often held influential seats on science-related committees in Congress. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) is a member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Despite massive amounts of scientific evidence supporting the theory of global warming, Inhofe says it is impossible because only God can change the weather.

Scientists worry more about whether or not they will be able to continue to conduct research on how to protect against an H5N1-related pandemic than whether or not God created the virus. In order to continue their work, they will need public funding regardless of the budget climate.