As was discussed in class, the research surrounding H5N1 avian influenza could have benefits in helping understand the microbiology of influenza zoonoses (and thus any possible predictors), but it also carries with it implications of bioterrist weaponization.
On Friday, Ron Fouchier (the premier virologist involved engineering in the virulent strain of H5N1) and a group of other premier flu-ologists issued a letter announcing a suspension of this research, to allow for more discussion by public officials and academics of its possible benefits versus its possible threats. Such a moratorium is extremely rare - the last one having occurred from 1974 to 1976 following safety concerns in recombinant DNA research.
What I found particularly interesting was Fouchier's statement regarding the parallel debate in the Netherlands - where similar research was also taking place. Scientists seem to have taken much more active steps in the Netherlands throughout their research to keep politicians and citizens much more updated and aware of the research. As such, a heated debate as found in the US does not exist in the Netherlands. This strongly indicates that, in the future, any similarly controversial scientific research would really benefit from publicizing itself more than is typically necessary for other research.
- Elena Higuchi