Federation of American Scientists Case Studies in Dual Use Biological Research Module 5.0: Antibiotic Resistance Case Study
Topic: History of Antibiotics

There are researchers who feel that it is irresponsible to recreate extinct or eradicated viruses, especially one as deadly and transmissible as the Spanish flu virus. Others feel that the work should be done, but the experimental details and the DNA sequence should not be published because this would make it too easy for rogue individuals or groups to repeat it. An editorial that appeared in the New York Times criticized the publication of the genome sequence saying; “this is extremely foolish. The genome is essentially the design of a weapon of mass destruction.” It went on to compare the sequence publication to releasing the precise design for an atomic bomb. Another New York Times article quoted Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University as saying, “there is a risk verging on inevitability of accidental… or deliberate release of the virus.” It “is perhaps the most effective bioweapons agent ever known.”

The methods used to reconstruct the virus are labor intensive, but they are not new. Instead what is new is that the sequence of the virus is now available in the GenBank database. Earl Brown, a flu researcher at the University of Ottawa in Canada says that with the sequence now available, “give me $100,000 and two months, and I can recreate it right here in my lab.” In fact, scientists in Canada who will be working with the 1918 influenza virus will not be receiving virus from the CDC; rather, they will get plasmids containing the genes and within a few days will have made their own virus.

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Topic History of Influenza Recreation of 1918 Influenza Virus Implications Discussion References Home