The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) today released a response to a sharply worded internal criticism about the handling of two controversial H5N1 avian influenza papers, one of which was published in Nature yesterday.
Officials involved in making the decision to publish H5N1 research have been queried about a letter that was leaked to the press two weeks ago. In the letter, Michael Osterholm, a member of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), accused the U.S. government of stacking the decks in favour of full publication during a crucial closed door meeting in March at which the NSABB was asked to re-evaluate the papers.
At a Royal Society meeting in London about H5N1 research, the thus-far silent Yoshihiro Kawaoka spoke openly about his results after the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), an independent advisory group to the US government, unanimously voted last week that Kawaoka's paper should be published in full. Nature intends to "proceed with publication as soon as possible".
Canada this month announced that any research on mammalian-transmissible strains of the H5N1 avian flu virus in the country's labs would need to be done at the strictest level of biocontainment, biosafety level 4 (BSL-4). It's the first country to issue a biosafety rating following the creation of such H5N1 strains in two recent controversial studies.
On 2 February, scientists and public health officials squared off in a panel discussion at the New York Academy of Sciences. Debate raged around the fate of two papers that describe a mutant strain of the avian influenza virus H5N1.
Last night, researchers and public health officials gathered high above New York City's 'Ground Zero' in hopes of narrowing the divide within the scientific community over the fate of two papers currently in the press at Nature and Science demonstrating mammalian transmission of avian influenza H5N1.
An engineered influenza virus based on a haemagglutinin protein from H5N1 avian influenza, with just four mutations, can be transmitted between ferrets, emphasizing the potential for a human pandemic to emerge from birds.
The World Health Organization declared the first flu pandemic in 41 years on 11 June 2009. As details of the global impact of the 2009 influenza A (H1N1) virus - and efforts to combat the threat - unfold over the coming months, Nature News provides breaking news and authoritative analysis of the science and the politics behind the headlines.
In 1918, a highly virulent form of the influenza virus killed at least 20 million people worldwide. Understanding the origin of the virus that caused this pandemic has been a long-standing goal because of the risk that a similar virus could arise and devastate human populations today.
Bird flu outbreaks in Asia have prompted the cull of tens of thousands of ducks and chickens to curtail the disease's spread. As the human death toll continues to grow, many are concerned that the virus will mutate and trigger a human pandemic. Here, Nature keeps track of the key events and scientific discoveries as researchers assess the threat.