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Planet Earth

Making Influenza: my story in tomorrow's New York Times

The LoomBy Carl ZimmerMarch 6, 2012 3:46 AM

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The ongoing controversy over experimental strains of bird flu is one of those multi-dimensional stories that you just can't fit into one article. I've written about it at Slate and here at the Loom, and I can point elsewhere to no end of excellent stuff. Fellow Discover blogger Ed Yong has a sharp, concise round-up on the research over at Nature, for example, and Michael Specter has a new story on it in this week's New Yorker (subscription required, alas). In tomorrow's New York Times, I take a look into one dimension of the story that has seemed under-explored to me. The controversy over the bird flu revolves around the risk that publishing the full details of the research could lead someone to recreate the virus and unleash a pandemic. Not just a terrorist or a hostile nation, but perhaps even a so-called "garage scientist" toiling at home. Is this a realistic risk, or unfounded fear? After talking to virologists who make viruses for a living and DIY biologists who don't, I find that the answer is pretty complicated. Check it out.[Flue virus image: ESRF]

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