A group of leading scientists have said it is "morally and ethically wrong" to continue to create a highly infectious strain of bird-flu virus that could be transmitted easily between people.
The scientists, who include a former UK government chief scientist and a Nobel laureate, have urged US President Barack Obama's advisers to investigate the ethical issues raised by the decision to create a new influenza virus in the laboratory that is more lethal and transmissible than any that exists in nature.
Two teams of flu researchers announced in 2011 that they had succeeded in mutating the H5N1 avian virus so that it could in theory be transmitted through the air between people.
They stopped the research last year as part of a wider voluntary moratorium following public outrage over the work. But they announced an end to the moratorium earlier this year, and even an expansion into new areas.
In a strongly worded letter sent to the US Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, opponents of the research warn that there has not been enough debate about the lifting of the moratorium.
They said the 60pc mortality rate of the H5N1 virus put it in a "class of its own" and that attempting to make it more transmissible was tantamount to risking a devastatingly deadly flu pandemic.
"The accidental release of an artificial, laboratory-generated, human-transmissible H5N1 virus has the potential to cause a global pandemic of epic proportions that would dwarf the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that killed more than 50 million people," the scientists said.
The scientists are particularly concerned that attempts to create more lethal forms of H5N1 in order to study the threat posed to humans are only the start of further work where more lethal viral mutations are actively encouraged.
(© Independent News Service)