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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

8/8/2013 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

No, this is not a bad comic book plot, it's real.

It appears that a mad scientists is at work in the Netherlands, and he plans to create an ultra-deadly strain of an avian flu virus. This isn't science fiction, but rather science fact. Ron Fouchier of Erasmus University in the Netherlands plans to create a more powerful version of the deadly H7N9 bird flu virus.

The plan is to learn more about the virus by making it deadlier.

The plan is to learn more about the virus by making it deadlier.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

8/8/2013 (1 year ago)

Published in Health

Keywords: virus, Fouchier, flu, strain, gain of function, Erasmus University, H7N9, bird flu, mad scientist


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Ron Fouchier of Erasmus University in the Netherlands plans to create a more deadly strain of the H7N9 bird flu virus, one that can be more easily transmitted from person to person.

Fouchier is working with a team of scientists from around the world, including the U.S., Hong Kong, and Britain. His team plans to genetically alter the virus in a process called "gain of function research."

By enhancing the virus, they hope to learn more about it and its capabilities.

Fouchier has been in the spotlight before. In 2011, he engineered an easier-to-spread strain of H5N1 bird flu. His work prompted an ethical outcry and delayed the publication of his research over concerns  that others could duplicate his work for nefarious ends. His work was eventually published.


The biologist told the Associated Press, "We cannot prevent epidemics or pandemics, but we can accumulate critical knowledge ahead of time."

Despite his noble goal, Fouchier has vocal critics who say his work is too dangerous to permit,

So while Fouchier can create such a virus, the question is, should he?

Fouchier hopes that by announcing his work in advance, he can stave off critics. He says the work can even help workers to identify deadly strains of the disease before they become widespread. In this way, pandemics can even be prevented before they have the chance to infect many people.

However, his lab is playing with a deadly virus and is making it deadlier. Ethical concerns are well-founded.

Scientists have worked for decades to develop increasingly powerful versions of diseases for use as biological weapons. This research has typically occurred in ultra-secure or remote settings with specialized security precautions including armed guards.

Only recently has such research threatened to move into the mainstream laboratory. Notably, in 1978, a young photographer, Janet Parker, died in a British hospital after contracting smallpox which was being handled in a university laboratory where she was working. 

Since then however, improved technology and safety measures have made working with dangerous pathogens in the laboratory mush easier and safer, but there is always risk. Moreover, there is the risk that the knowledge can be used by someone with evil intent.

While Fouchier and his colleagues are not mad scientists bent on creating apocalypse. Then again, neither were the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project either.

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