A committee that advises the government says that details of two controversial experiments on bird flu virus should not be made public, because of fears that the work could provide a recipe for a bioweapon.
The government-funded experiments were done by researchers who wanted to understand if bird flu virus might change in the future to cause a pandemic in people. By tweaking genes, they made the deadly bird flu virus more contagious between lab animals.
In a landmark decision, an expert panel known as the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, which advises the government, says key details of the work should not be published openly.
This is the first time such a recommendation has been made even though the scientific community has discussed concerns about the potential misuse of biological research since the 2001 attacks and subsequent anthrax mailings. The life sciences have traditionally had a culture of openness, with all experiments published publicly so that others can replicate and learn from them.
In a statement announcing the committee’s decision, the National Institutes of Health said the government will set up a new system to give the worrisome bird flu information only to legitimate public health researchers.
The Department of Health and Human Services agreed with the assessment and passed it along to the scientists and journals. The recommendations of the committee aren’t binding on science journals and on the researchers themselves, who still could choose to publish their work.