US fears Dutch research could be biological weapon

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The US has expressed deep concern about a deadly variant of the avian influenza virus ‘created’ by a Dutch professor and has delayed publication of his findings pending an investigation. Experts fear terrorists could get their hands on the information and use it as a biological weapon, reports Dutch newspaper on Friday.

In a twist of irony, the research was commissioned by US medical research agency NIH. The institute asked Ron Fouchier - professor of molecular virology at Rotterdam’s Erasmus teaching hospital – to investigate whether the bird flu virus H5N1 could lead to a pandemic.

Virus DNA adjusted Many scientists reacted with scepticism to the research, which was carried out amid high security. Fouchier showed that with a small number of mutations in the virus DNA, he was able to change it into an extremely infectious variant.

Avian flu is rarely transferred from animal to human, but, when it happens, the result is usually fatal. By deliberately modifying the virus’ genes, Dr Fouchier was able to induce H5N1 transmission between ferrets, which are commonly used to study flu transmission between humans because of similar immune systems.

Research as bioterrorism The Dutch professor submitted an article based on his research to the US scientific journal Science. The magazine contacted the US advisory board for bioterrorism looking for approval before publication. The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity is looking into whether the altered virus could have global consequences should it be released ‘into the wild’.

© Radio Netherlands Worldwide

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