Skip to comments.Releasing a lethal flu to the world
Posted on 10/16/2005 10:07:15 PM PDT by Termite_Commander
While official Washington has been poring over Harriet Miers long-ago doings on the Dallas City Council and parsing the Byzantine comings and goings of the Fitzgerald grand jury, relatively unnoticed was perhaps the most momentous event of our lifetime what is left of it, as I shall explain. It was announced that American scientists have just created a living, killing copy of the 1918 Spanish flu.
This is big. Very big.
First, it is a scientific achievement of staggering proportions. The Spanish flu has not been seen on this blue planet for 85 years. Its re-creation is a story of enterprise, ingenuity, serendipity, hard work and sheer brilliance. It involves finding deep in the bowels of a military hospital in Washington a couple of tissue samples from the lungs of soldiers who died in 1918 (in an autopsy collection first ordered into existence by Abraham Lincoln), and the disinterment of an Alaskan Eskimo who died of the flu and whose remains had been preserved by the permafrost. Then, using slicing and dicing techniques only Michael Crichton could imagine, they pulled off a microbiological Jurassic Park: the first ever resurrection of an ancient pathogen. And not just any ancient pathogen, explained virologist Eddie Holmes, but the agent of the most important disease pandemic in human history.
Which brings us to the second element of this story: Beyond the brilliance lies the sheer terror. We have quite literally brought back to life an agent of near-biblical destruction. It killed more people in six months than were killed in the four years of the First World War. It killed more humans than any other disease of similar duration in the history of the world, says Alfred W. Crosby, who wrote a history of the 1918 pandemic. And, notes The New Scientist, when the re-created virus was given to mice in heavily quarantined laboratories in Atlanta, it killed the mice more quickly than any other flu virus ever tested.
Now that I have your attention, consider, with appropriate trepidation, the third element of this story: What to do with this knowledge? Not only has the virus been physically re-created. But its entire genome has now been published for the whole world, good people and very bad, to see.
The decision to publish was a very close and terrifying call.
On the one hand, we need the knowledge disseminated. Weve learned from this research that the 1918 flu was bird flu, the most bird-like of all mammalian flu viruses, says Jeffery Taubenberger, lead researcher in unraveling the genome. There is a bird flu epidemic right now in Asia that has infected 117 people and killed 60. It has already developed a few of the genomic changes that permit transmission to humans. Therefore, you want to put out the knowledge of the structure of the 1918 flu, which made the full jump from birds to humans, so that every researcher in the world can immediately start looking for ways to anticipate, monitor, prevent and counteract similar changes in todays bird flu.
We are essentially in a life-and-death race with the bird flu. Can we figure out how to pre-empt it before it figures out how to evolve into a transmittable form with 1918 lethality that will decimate humanity? To run that race we need the genetic sequence universally known not just to inform and guide but to galvanize new research.
On the other hand, resurrection of the virus and publication of its structure opens the gates of hell. Anybody, bad guys included, can now create it. Biological knowledge is far easier to acquire for Osama and friends than nuclear knowledge. And if you cant make this stuff yourself, you can simply order up DNA sequences from commercial laboratories around the world that will make it and ship it to you on demand. Taubenberger himself admits that the technology is available.
And if the bad guys cant make the flu themselves, they could try to steal it. Thats not easy. But the incentive to do so from a secure facility could not be greater. Nature, which published the full genome sequence, cites Rutgers bacteriologist Richard Ebright as warning that there is a significant risk verging on inevitability of accidental release into the human population or of theft by a disgruntled, disturbed or extremist laboratory employee.
One batch of 1918 flu has the capacity for mass destruction that no Bond villain could ever dream of. Why try to steal loose nukes in Russia? A nuke can only destroy a city. The flu virus, properly evolved, is potentially a destroyer of civilizations.
We might have just given it to our enemies.
Have a nice day.
Where evah this flu came from, and, where it is going, I am watching it closely...
Scientific Explorer # 1 somewhere near the North Pole: -- 'Hey, Oswald! We got our choice here. Check this out, pilgrum.'
Scientific Explorer # 2: -- 'Hey, cool, man.
# 1: -- 'Not only cool, Ozzy. The dang things are frozen solid! What say we chip away at this little thing here and take it back?'
# 2: -- 'I'm with you there, pardner. That monster with the tusks would take a week to get a sample and it would take another month to drag it back through the snow.'
# 1: -- 'Check! Okay, the bird it is. If we run out of food we can always eat the thing.'
Only those who were around in 1918 would possibly still be immune.
OTOH, if anyone in 1918 had a genetic mutation that conferred some natural resistance to the flu, the 1918 pandemic would have altered the gene pool slightly in favor of those who were more resistant. So there's a slight chance that we (who are younger than age 87) have more natural resistance to the flu's effects than they did.
Could this be driven by money? I mean, now that they have opened pandora's box won't the drug companies be seeking billions from the government to prevent the spread of this disease? They may say it is in the name of knowledge but I believe it has to do with a whole lot of money and challenge that was there.
Can we know the names of the geniuses who made the decision to:
1) resurrect this virus
2) release the code to the world?
We get to know Einstein's name. And we get to know Hitler's. The people who resurrected and then released this virus are either Einsteins or Hitlers. They deserve the full spotlight of public acclaim. Like an Einstein. Or a Hitler.
Why not? I know little about this science but am finding it alarming to say the least.
Louis Farrakhan is on record saying that George Bush had the virus created to kill of black people. (Sarc.)
As a physician, Charles has more than a passing knowledge of the subject.
Just one small flaw with the concept of using flu as a weapon. There is no way for the people who unleash it to confine it's spread. Unlike a nuke which you can detonate thousands of miles from yourself, thus keeping yourself and your family safe, this is like a Pandora's box. In other words, pretty stupid, if you ask me.
Molecular engineering is not like building IEDs.
My sediments exactly. The industrialized world will find ways to deal with an epidemic. In the Third World where most of the jihadis live, this stuff would snuff out untold millions (okay, tens of thousands) of potential homicide bombers. Reminds me of why Hitler didn't use his supply of nerve and blood agents against the Allies (other than Hitler's memory of his own gassing in WWI): the German Army was dependent on horse drawn transport that would have been destroyed by Allied chemical retaliation.
This is not a problem for members of an apocalyptic religion like Islam. To them this is a very good idea. They get to die and receive their 72 virgins and all the infidels just die.
Very few people know that! Have you ever seen a gas mask for a horse?
I don't think the people "running the show" are such martyrs as you think. Of course, one can't assume anything about particular individuals and their warped thinking. I think the guys in charge are gutless wimps and that's why they get the little peons to be the suicide bombers. You'lll never see Bin Laden or Zarquawi or these types doing the dirty deeds. A bunch of cowards!
Very few people know that! Have you ever seen a gas mask for a horse?
That's pretty cool. I was always amazed by how much horse-drawn stuff the Wehrmacht had. I've seen pictures of the gas masks for the critters, too. Always thought it was pretty hopeless myself, though. Imagine trying to get one on a horse, esp. if its panicky.
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