Bird flu researchers end a yearlong moratorium on experiments to determine whether the H5N1 virus can mutate and spread among humans. The work, which was deemed risky, won't resume yet in the U.S.
Bird flu researchers said Wednesday that they would end a self-imposed moratorium on controversial experiments to determine how the deadly H5N1 virus might mutate and gain the ability to spread easily among humans.
In a statement published online by the journals Science and Nature, 40 scientists said they were poised to resume their investigations — but only in countries that have established clear rules for conducting the research safely. The U.S., which is the largest funder of influenza research, is not yet among those nations.
"We want to resume virus transmission studies because we believe this research is important to pandemic preparedness," said University of Wisconsin virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka, one of the scientists whose work prompted biosecurity experts to call for new restrictions on flu research.
There have been only 610 confirmed human cases of bird flu since 2003, but 59% of those people have died. In nature, the virus has very limited ability to spread directly from person to person. Scientists fear that just a few key genetic mutations could change that, creating the pot