After months of debate, the science journal Nature has finally published the first of two controversial papers US security advisers previously warned could play into the hands of ‘bioterrorists’.
When Ron Fouchier, a virologist at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam developed a new strain of deadly H5N1 (bird flu) that could easily pass between mammals, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) in America, recommended their research findings not be published.
Up until that point, scientists believed the virus was only contracted by people in close proximity to infected birds. But, as Fred Guteri explains in Scientic American, researchers demonstrated that the lab-made virus could be passed between mammals (in this case, ferrets), in the same way that air-borne human viruses are spread.
Earlier this week, researchers were finally granted an export license for their findings, according to Science Insider, allowing Fouchier to send a revised version of his paper to the academic journal Science.
In a statement, the NSABB dropped their objections, saying that they did not believe the papers would "endanger public health or national security".
The federal advisory panel was previously concerned the research could act as a recipe for a terrorist attack, writes The Daily Mail.
Award-winning science blogger Ed Yong told Huffpost Lifestyle: "Despite the concerns about the mutant strains, the paper really underscores how worrying the wild H5N1 viruses are. It shows that the wild viruses can evolve to spread between mammals with worrying ease, and that they are already well on the way."
Since it emerged in Hong Kong in 1997, H5N1 influenza has killed millions of chickens, mostly in Asia, writes The Washington Post. People are rarely infected, but when that happens they are likely to die. Since 2003 there have been 602 human cases and 355 deaths.