Federation of American Scientists Case Studies in Dual Use Biological Research Module 4.0: Mousepox Case Study
Topic: "Mousepox" Experiment Subtopic: Institutional Review and the Decision to Publish

Prior to the experimental work, the research proposal for the mousepox experiment was submitted to the CSIRO Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) who reviewed the potential risks to humans and the environment. It was also submitted to the Australian government’s Genetic Manipulation Advisory Committee (GMAC) for final approval. At the time, the researchers had highlighted the possibility that an "immunosuppressive virus" might be created which would be lethal to the mice exposed to it, however, it was also underscored that this outcome was unlikely given the genetic resistance of previous test mice to the mousepox virus. According to Dr. Jackson, beyond routine biocontainment precautions, no issues or implications were raised by either the IBC or GMAC in their respective reviews.

Jackson and Ramshaw consulted with scientific colleagues in Australia, as well as recognized experts on smallpox Donald Henderson and Frank Fenner, who, while appreciating the implications of their work for biodefense, saw no reason to suppress the experimental results. The scientists felt that it was better to have the information in the public domain rather than suppress it. The CSIRO head contacted the Australian government, which had no objections to publication given that no violations of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) were found. This is not surprising given that the BTWC only forbids "the development, production, stockpiling, or acquirement of biological agents or toxins that have no justification for peaceful or defensive purposes." The paper was published in the Journal of Virology in February 2001 and since the journal had published similar research papers in 1996 and 1998 no problems were expected. In fact, Ron Jackson observes that "prior to our paper, there had been four other pox virus-IL-4 papers describing the immunosuppression enhanced lethality of myxoma virus expressing IL-4."

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