A virus that kills every one of its victims, by wiping out part of their immune system, has been accidentally createdby an Australian research team. The modified mousepox virus does not affect humans, but it is closely related tosmallpox, raising fears that the technology could be used in biowarfare or in unprincipled commercial applications.Critics have long warned that biogenetic research could lead to an accidental or purposeful release of geneticallymodified organisms that, like this virus, have dangerous and unpredictable effects. Now, the technology developed inAustralia gives new reason for fear.
In this case, after internal discussion, the Australian researchers, decided to terminate the project and go public.A lead researcher warned that the process could theoretically be used on almost any virus in existence, but addedthat it could also be put to good use in developing vaccines or understanding the immune system.
But the discovery highlights a series of growing problem: Who decides what research promotes the public good? How doyou stop governments or terrorists from conducting clandestine experiments, or from taking legitimate research andadapting it for their own purposes? And perhaps more routinely, who monitors commercial and military researchconducted behind closed doors or behind the veil of national security?
- Joe Grossman, UPI reporter in California.
- Annabelle Duncan, Chief of a Division of the Commonwealth Industrial and Scientific Research Organization,Canberra, Australia.
- Matthew Messelson, Professor of Biology at Harvard University; an advisor to the US government during thebirth of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention.
- Andrew Kimbrell, Director of the International Center for Technology Assessment, Washington, DC.
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