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US tells scientists to censor new bird flu research

December 21, 2011 - Washington

The United States Government has reportedly asked Dutch scientists to censor key parts of their work that described how they managed to mutate the H5N1 Bird Flu virus into a strain that could be highly infectious and deadly to humans.

US government officials have become so alarmed at the prospect of the information falling into the hands of terrorists who would be intent on making a biological weapon.

It maybe recalled that two groups of scientists, in the Netherlands and the US, have submitted scientific papers to the journals Nature and Science describing how they have managed to convert the Bird Flu virus, which does not spread easily between people, into an airborne form that can be transmitted in coughs and sneezes.

As The Independent revealed yesterday, a group of special scientific advisors to the US Government decided that the details of the two studies into H5N1 Bird Flu were too sensitive to be published in full and recommended redactions to the manuscripts rather than a complete ban on publication.

In a statement released yesterday, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), which funded the research, said that many scientists and public health officials are concerned that the virus could evolve naturally into a form that is transmissible between humans, which could result in a devastating pandemic.

"While the public health benefits of such research can be important, certain information obtained through such studies has the potential to be misused for harmful purposes," the statement says.

"These manuscripts... concluded that the H5N1 virus has greater potential than previously believed to gain a dangerous capacity to be transmitted among mammals, including perhaps humans."

The NIH said the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, which advises the US Government, recommended that the scientists and the two journals should omit key details of experiments.

It does not want the publication of all the scientific methods used in the experiments, nor the genetic sequences of the mutated H5N1 virus, in order to prevent replication of the research "by those who would seek to do harm".


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