Friday, May 3, 2013

"Very dangerous work disguised as big science."

Study: Lab-made H5N1-H1N1 viruses spread in guinea pigs

Robert Roos - News Editor May 2, 2013

(CIDRAP News) – Chinese scientists report that lab-generated hybrid viruses combining genes from avian H5N1 and pandemic 2009 H1N1 (pH1N1) influenza viruses can achieve airborne spread between guinea pigs, a finding that seems likely to renew the debate about the risks of creating novel viruses that might be able to spark a human pandemic.

Writing in Science, the researchers say that 5 of 127 hybrids they generated by shuffling genes from the two subtypes showed "highly efficient" transmission in guinea pigs. None of the guinea pigs died, but some mice that were infected with the reassortant strains did succumb.

Guinea pigs are not regarded as the best experimental model for human flu, a distinction that belongs to ferrets. The Chinese team did not test any of the hybrid viruses in ferrets, because a voluntary moratorium on "gain of function" research on H5N1 viruses—studies involving the creation of potentially dangerous new strains—intervened in January 2012 and lasted a year.

The moratorium was prompted by the controversy that erupted in late 2011 over two earlier studies in which researchers generated novel H5N1 strains that spread among ferrets via respiratory droplets. One of the studies involved an H5N1-H1N1 reassortant; while the other involved an H5N1 virus in which specific mutations were induced. The US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) sought to prevent publication of full details of the two studies, but eventually reversed itself, and the studies were published in May and June of 2012.

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