AU: Created by error in lab, virus is deadly, threateninggreenspun.com : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread
Australian scientists have accidentally created a virus that kills mice by crippling their immune systems, and warn that the technique might threaten to produce deadlier forms of human viruses and new kinds of biological weapons.
The scientists were trying to make the mice infertile, but unintentionally created a killer.
They added a gene involved in the mouse immune system to the mousepox virus, which is a cousin of the human smallpox virus that is widely used in lab studies.
Because people have the same immune system gene, a similar step could in theory create a pathogen deadly to people.
Previously, scientists exploring the shadowy world of designer pathogens found that superbugs made by genetic engineering often turn out to be less potent than their natural progenitors.
So the Australian scientists, from the Australian National University in Canberra, say the discovery of the ease of making such a viral killer should ring global alarm bells.
The surprise discovery was made in 1998 and 1999 and is described in the February issue of the Journal of Virology. Scientists debated publicizing the information and decided it should come out ``in case somebody constructed something more sinister,'' said Ronald Jackson, the lead researcher. ``We felt we had a moral obligation because it is existing technology,'' he said.
The scientists were seeking ways to help protect global food supplies from mice and rats.
An American biologist who works for the Defense Department on germ defenses said, ``It demonstrates a frightening message,'' speaking on condition of anonymity. ``Maybe it's easier to do these things than we think.''
-- spider (email@example.com), January 23, 2001
Scientist's experiment brews up deadly virus
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- Scientists trying to make a contraceptive for mice warned they may have inadvertently created a killer virus and worried that similar techniques could produce microbes that are deadly to humans.
The scientists had set out to develop a biological contraceptive intended to halt mouse and rat plagues. They added a gene involved in the mouse immune system to the mousepox virus, a smallpox-like disease that affects mice.
But in doing so, they made the virus deadly for breeds of laboratory mice normally resistant to its effects. They also found it made vaccines for mice against mousepox less effective, said Dr. Bob Seamark, director of the Cooperative Research Centre for the Biological Control of Pest Animals.
Humans have a similar immune system gene, and it was not clear if the same process could create a pathogen deadly to people. Scientists say the mouse virus itself poses no danger to humans.
Seamark said last week the world should be warned of the potential abuses of the discovery if similar manipulation is done with human viruses.
"It was a concern that this same modification could be made to human viruses and this would enhance their virulence or at least (strengthen) their ability to kill people," he said.
"We also want researchers to use this new knowledge to help design better vaccines."
Dr. Annabelle Duncan, chief of molecular science at the Australian government's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, urged a stronger Biological Weapons Convention, a treaty ratified by some 140 nations pledging not to develop or stockpile biological weapons.
"Discoveries such as this are being made all the time," she said. "The important thing is to ensure they are used for good, not for destructive purposes."
A report on the discovery is scheduled to be published in the February issue of the Journal of Virology.
-- spider (firstname.lastname@example.org), January 23, 2001.