TECH

Scientists Recreate Deadly Spanish Flu Virus, No One's Really Sure Why

12/06/2014 12:41 BST | Updated 12/06/2014 12:59 BST

Scientists in America have brought back to life the deadly influenza virus which caused the Spanish Flu pandemic, killing over 50 million people.

Naturally we can hear you shouting: 'Why would scientists even consider doing something like that?' Well here's the scary bit, the scientific community isn't entirely sure why they've done it either.

According to Professor Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of Wisonsin-Madison his team brought the strain back to life in order to help develop better vaccines against a possible flu pandemic in the future.

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The previously extinct influenza virus was reportedly recreated by taking strains of avian flu found in wild ducks, it was then injected into laboratory ferrets in order to analyse how easily it could be transmitted through animals.

Defending his critics Professor Kawaoka explains to The Independent that although controversial his research is vital.

“These critics fail to appreciate the precautions and safeguards built into our work, the regulation, review and oversight these studies receive….The risks of conducting this research are not ignored, but they can be effectively managed and mitigated,”

“We know studies like ours advance the field and help those responsible for making decisions about surveillance and pandemic preparedness [to] base decisions on scientific fact, rather than conjecture. Therefore our research provides important benefits that cannot be achieved by other means,”

The study has essentially concluded that many of the ingredients needed for the virus to return are actually already found in the wild bird population, in particular the bird flu virus.

Despite the apparent revelations Kawaoka has uncovered, scientists have criticised his work for being too risky, with the gains reportedly being far outweighed by the risk of another deadly flu pandemic.

Professor Robert Kolter from Harvard Medical School had this to say to The Independent:

"The scientists doing this work are so immersed in their own self-aggrandisement, they have become completely blind to the irresponsibility of their acts. Their arguments in favour of such work, i.e. increase ability for surveillance, remain as weak as ever.”