Researchers mutating H7N9, increasing virulence and P2P transmission

Twenty-two researchers from labs across the world submitted a letter to Nature and Science yesterday detailing their proposed “gain-of-function” research on the avian influenza virus H7N9. Their work would genetically engineer H7N9 to make it both more virulent and more readily transmissible person-to-person. The research sounds controversial, not the least because one of the scientists involved is Dr. Ron Fouchier, whose on gain-of-function work on H5N1 ingnited furious debate over what should research should and shouldn’t be published. However, there is a very real possibility that H7N9 will naturally mutate to transmit effectively between people. We already know that the virus is just a single amino acid mutation away from becoming easily transmissible between people. Indeed, news of the first confirmed case of such transmission was published in the British Medical Journal this week. With a 60% fatality rate and a completely naive global population, the results would be catastrophic. The proposed research would give us an idea of potential pandemic scenarios, giving us a head start on potential vaccine and antiviral development.  It may be controversial, but it’s absolutely necessary.

For the full letter, see here.

(image credit: Yoshihiro Kawaoka University of Winsconsin, Madison)

2 thoughts on “Researchers mutating H7N9, increasing virulence and P2P transmission

  1. “Absolutely necessary….”. Basic biology for life forms of any sort is they adapt to their environment. If this means creating mutations to better survive in resistant species9 or overcome resistance of vaccine-innoculated bodies) it will do so. I believe that research already shows many viruses that become vaccine resistant; often when researchers develop a vaccine, by the time it is administered and stimulates antibody production,the virus strain has mutated into another form. Ergo, the vaccine is ineffective. The human immune system will also adapt to virus invasion; it will “learn” and ,if healthy, construct antibodies to combat the threat. Forcing an inevitable mutation of a virulent life form simply makes it’s escape and infection of new hosts (humans) easier. In spite of all assurances of these researchers they have guaranteed an inevitable slip up will trigger a mass outbreak. They are not infallible; no piece of high-tech containment equipment is infallible. As stated in the movie “Jurassic Park” – “Just because they could do it does not mean they should”.

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