- Two papers detailing how deadly virus spreads was released Thursday after months of opposition
- U.S. biosecurity pannel said papers could show terrorists how to make biological weapon
- Scientists fear that mutated strand could more easily spread in humans
Controversial research papers detailing how to more easily spread the deadly bird flu have been released, ending a saga that pitted concerns about terrorism against fears of a deadly global epidemic.
Both papers were released Thursday and describe how researchers created virus strains that could potentially be transmitted through the air from person to person. Scientists said the results could help them spot dangerous virus strains in nature.
But last December, acting on advice of a U.S. biosecurity panel, federal officials asked the researchers not to publish details of the work, which identified the genetic mutations used to make the strains.
They warned the papers could show terrorists how to make a biological weapon.
That led to a wide-ranging debate among scientists and others, many of whom argued that sharing the results with other researchers was essential to deal with the flu risk.
Bird flu has spread among poultry in Asia for several years and can be deadly in people, but it only rarely jumps to humans. People who get it usually had direct contact with infected chickens and ducks.
Scientists have long worried that if the virus picked up mutations that let it spread easily from person to person, it could take off in the human population, with disastrous results.
The two teams that conducted the controversial research eventually submitted revised versions of their papers to the federal biosecurity panel. They said the changes focused on things like the significance of the findings to public health, rather than the experimental details themselves.
The panel announced in March it supported publishing the revised manuscripts, saying it had heard new evidence that sharing information about the mutations would help in guarding against a pandemic.