A 3D rendering of the influenza virus. Researchers can now deliberately make viruses such as these more deadly in order to understand how pandemics evolve.
A 3D rendering of the influenza virus. Researchers can now deliberately make viruses such as these more deadly in order to understand how pandemics evolve.

US scientists now allowed to make deadly viruses for military

SCIENTISTS eager to genetically engineer viruses to become even more deadly in order to understand how pandemics arise have been given the green light in the United States.

President Trump's Federal Government yesterday ended a three-year moratorium on allowing such research to be funded.

The moratorium was introduced after experts raised fears that such 'monster' germs could possibly escape laboratories - unleashing the very kind of pandemic they intended to avert.

Now the New York Times reports the only thing in the way of such studies is if a panel of scientists decides the benefits outweigh the risks and suitable security is in place.

 

UNDERSTANDING EVOLUTION

That viruses mutate naturally is a fact of life. Every year a new variety of the Common Cold sweeps the world, exploiting new vulnerabilities in the human immune system.

Sometimes that mutation can be disastrous - such as the pandemic influenza which swept the world in 1918, killing anywhere between 20 and 40 million people.

Among the studies health scientists wish to complete involve identifying how common viruses - such as bird flu - can mutate in ways that increase the ease with which they are transmitted, or become more deadly to humans.

It is hoped the understanding of these processes can help medical science anticipate deadly mutations and prepare the groundwork for effective vaccines.

But in 2014 all such federal research on the flu virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) was stopped.

The Times quotes the head of the National Institutes of Health, Dr Francis Collins, as saying the new regulations will allow any pathogen that can potentially cause pandemics - such as the Ebola virus - to be studied.

 

THE ERROR FACTOR\

Worldwide fears of an accidental release of a potentially deadly new virus were boosted in 2011 after virologists in 2011 deliberately mutated the deadly avian flu virus into a variety that could be transmitted through the air. It was tested on ferrets due to similarities between their respiratory system and ours.

It provoked public outcry, and major international science journals refused to publish its findings.

European Society for Virology defended the experiments, saying the work was intended to be used to "pre-empt" any such outbreak and give medical researchers a "headstart" in treating it.

Other incidents have continued to add fuel to the fears. In 2015 it was reported the US Army accidentally sent the live anthrax virus to Australia

. The US National Institutes of Health in 2014 found a forgotten stash of the supposedly eradicated smallpox virus that had been sitting in a freezer for 50 years.



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