A scientist has shown that with around $100,00, a semi-professional level of biology and some mail order DNA a team could potentially bring back one of the deadliest viruses ever known to man.
David Evans and his team from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, were able to easily resurrect horsepox, an extremely close relative of the deadly virus smallpox using genetic pieces ordered in the mail.
While Evans certainly isn’t planning to unleash smallpox on the world again, he does believe that by closely examining this centuries old viral strain we can create more powerful vaccines or even create viral treatments to fight cancer.
Evans’ research is by no means new, but it is controversial which has meant that it has taken almost a year for the work to be recognised by an interview feature in Science magazine.
It’s not hard to see why, speaking to Science virologist Gerd Sutter of Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany warns that this resurrection technique could easily be duplicated for smallpox.
“No question. If it’s possible with horsepox, it’s possible with smallpox,” he warns.
While the scientific community has been reluctant to promote his findings Evans believes that it’s crucial work begins on fighting it.
He argues that the technology needed to resurrect the virus already exists and that if he hadn’t shown it was possible someone with far more unpleasant aims could have done it under the radar.
Evans was able to show that he could create horsepox without raising any of the usual red flags that have been put in place by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Under WHO guidelines, all scientists are forbidden from mapping the smallpox genome or even creating a small live sample in laboratory conditions.
Now while scientists agree that you wouldn’t just be able to cook it up in a cave, the pre-requisite for creating the pox virus has been reduced significantly thanks to technological advances.
Evans’ work was in partnership with a pharmaceutical company Tonix which hopes to use his technique to create a more powerful vaccine against smallpox that also comes with none of the nasty side effects that have plagued the current version.