David Brown
Washington Post
March 31, 2012

Two scientific papers that describe experiments with a virulent and contagious bird flu virus should be published in uncensored form, a committee of scientists advising the federal government said Friday.

That recommendation by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity reverses one the committee made in January, when it asked two journals, Science and Nature, to hold off publishing studies about the lab-engineered strains of the H5N1 influenza virus.

Two facts appeared to sway the 18 voting members…

… One is that the papers don’t provide step-by-step directions for how to make the engineered H5N1 strain. Specifically, they don’t provide a final list of mutations that made the bird flu easily transmissible in mammals, which it isn’t naturally.

…. The second fact is that new surveillance shows that “wild” H5N1 viruses circulating in chicken flocks overseas contain mutations similar to ones in the lab-engineered strains. Consequently, publishing the papers would give public health officials information that would help them identify wild H5N1 strains evolving in an especially dangerous direction.

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