Disturbing experiments with avian flu viruses

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Genetically engineered avian flu viruses

After scientists announced that they would be genetically manipulating avian influenza viruses for research purposes, a discussion broke out about the purpose of such experiments. According to some media, this dangerous work has already started.

Genetically manipulated avian flu viruses It was only recently reported that the H7N9 flu virus could also be transmitted from person to person. It is not only since that that scientists have been debating whether it is reasonable to breed genetically manipulated bird flu viruses for research purposes. Virologists Ron Fouchier (Rotterdam) and Yoshihiro Kawaoka (Wisconsin) write in an open letter that they want to make the deadly bird flu virus H7N9 more aggressive in the laboratory in order to better understand how it spreads. The letter was published this week in the two largest science journals "Nature" and "Science".

Experiments are already running worldwide According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 43 people died from the pathogen by July. The outbreak is currently banned, but according to the researchers, the virus could reappear next winter. Research groups worldwide have started to work with genetically manipulated avian influenza viruses of the type H7N9 and according to FOCUS information, the first experiments are already underway. Ron Fouchier confirmed to FOCUS: "Drug resistance experiments are already underway in several laboratories worldwide." According to the influenza expert from the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, other trials are in preparation: "Studies in which we can increase the transferability of the viruses could be within." start fewer months. "

Experts see great danger In such experiments, mutations would be expected that could be identified earlier and thus better controlled. It is feared that pathogen variants will arise that can be far more dangerous than the natural originals. That is why such projects are extremely controversial. For example, Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control, finds such experiments negligent: "Artificial changes in the virus are very dangerous." Changing a pathogen in nature could take many years. A converted virus could be dangerous right away. Such changes are neither predictable, nor is it possible to realistically anticipate them in the laboratory. He criticized: "This is not based on really scientific research."

Scientists see scientific benefits Fouchier and Kawaoka see great scientific benefits in the projects. In their opinion, the experiments could help them develop better vaccines, better study the dangers of a new outbreak and artificially analyze the risks of new transmission routes. Her open letter states: "Further research is needed, including experiments that are part of gain-of-function studies"

Danger is not over The new form of bird flu H7N9 was first detected in humans in March. The typical symptoms of avian flu initially resemble those of conventional flu and usually include high fever, cough, sore throat and occasional shortness of breath. At least 130 people were infected in China. In most cases, the authorities assumed that those affected had contracted poultry. Thousands of animals were culled and markets with live poultry closed. The number of new infections then fell almost completely. However, as early as April, the WHO suspected that the virus could have spread from person to person in individual cases. A few days ago, a team of researchers led by scientist Bao Chang-jun from the Center for Disease Control in the southern Chinese city of Nanjing once again warned and warned in the British Medical Journal of the risk of human-to-human transmission: “The danger of H7N9 is definitely not over. "

Image: Aka / pixelio.de

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