21 Jan 2012

Terror fears halt mutant bird flu research

6:36 pm on 21 January 2012

Scientists who created a more deadly strain of bird flu have temporarily stopped their research amid fears it could be used by terrorists.

In a letter published in the journals Science and Nature, the researchers have called for an international forum to debate the risks and benefits.

Last month a United States biosecurity advisory panel called for important parts of the research to be withheld from publication.

Scientists say the work is essential to understand how flu viruses become pandemic threats, and how to contain them.

A government advisory panel suggested the data could be used by terrorists.

Biosecurity experts fear a mutant form of the virus could spark a pandemic deadlier than the 1918-19 Spanish flu outbreak that killed up to 40 million people.

The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity recommended key details be omitted from publication of the research, which sparked international furore.

"I would have preferred if this hadn't caused so much controversy, but it has happened and we can't change that," Ron Fouchier, a researcher from Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, told Science Insider.

"So I think it's the right step to make."

While bird flu is deadly, its reach has been limited because it is not transmissible between humans.