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Title Foreign Correspondent: Building The Perfect Bug
Published Australia : ABC, 2012
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Description 1 streaming video file (27 min. 16 sec.) ; 164051602 bytes
Summary Bird flu is already aggressively lethal so why did laboratory researchers engineer a super strain that can be contracted far more easily, just like normal flu. It's a question that has provoked raging arguments within the scientific community and provoked an extraordinary reaction from security agencies worried about the prospect of bio-terrorism. At the moment there's a tense truce between the camps but inevitably the research projects will publish their work. Some experts also believe it's only a matter of time before the bug itself leaves the lab and goes to work on a very unprepared world.It sounds like a benign coordinate or reference number but make no mistake H5N1 is far from benign. It's an influenza virus ruthlessly efficient at killing those unfortunate enough to encounter it. You can't catch it like conventional flu, victims contract it by eating poultry infected with the bug.But global health authorities know that viruses mutate and evolve and fear a version of the bird flu that someday can be caught atmospherically - a sneeze on the subway, a cough in a crowd.'Well there's no way of saying how many humans would die. (The Spanish flu of 1918) killed 100 million human beings with a 2% kill rate - 98 per cent of people infected survived it. So jump to the age of globalisation, rapid air travel, movement of humans and imagine a 50% kill rate.' - Laurie Garrett, Pulitzer Prize Winning Science WriterScientists haven't waited for nature to contrive this version of H5N1. They've made it themselves. Two separate research projects - one in The Netherlands and the other in the US - engineered a version of bird flu that can be transmitted atmospherically. Rotterdam researchers mutated the virus in an experiment using ferrets and the results were devastating.'The respiratory tracks of the ferrets behave exactly the same way as respiratory tracks of humans. And indeed with just a handful of mutations the bird flu virus can now be transmitted between ferrets via coughing and sneezing'. - Ron Fouchier, Virologist, Rotterdam.The research has not only divided the scientific community but it's also enraged global security agencies concerned about bio-terrorism. Can the world be sure the labs involved in this work were as secure as they should be? Should the two research projects be allowed to publish their findings, including, effectively, the recipe for the mutated virus?'We scientists have to communicate and we do so via publications.' - Ron FouchierIn this important and unmissable program, Foreign Correspondent examines the furious debate over the merits of the science, the reasons behind it and - beyond a brokered short-term moratorium on publishing the data - whether or not the projects should be able to go to print.'So when you go to the next step - bioterrorism - it could be a homicidal jerk who wants to kill his wife or it could be an organisation that believes it's time to bring on the apocalypse because that's their religious frame of reference ... we now have that tool kit at hand and this experiment really pushes everything and argues for better policies than anybody has on the table.' - Laurie Garrett
Event Broadcast 2012-03-13 at 20:00:00
Notes Classification: NC
Subject Avian influenza.
Bioterrorism -- Safety measures.
Clinical trials.
Communicable diseases -- Transmission.
Influenza -- Research.
United States.
China -- Hong Kong.
Form Streaming video
Author Fowler, Andrew, reporter
Fouchier, Ron, contributor
Garrett, Laurie, contributor
Osterholm, Michael, contributor
Racaniello, Vincent, contributor