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Dangerous Research

The US government has taken the unusual step of asking two groups of researchers to redact some material from papers they plan to publish on the avian influenza virus H5N1, reports Nature's Declan Butler. The two groups created variants of the virus that make it more easily transmissible through the air, and the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity has asked that those details be redacted so that the work cannot be easily replicated by those who might have nefarious plans in mind.

After some consideration, the groups have "reluctantly" agreed to redact certain details from their manuscripts, reports ScienceInsider's Martin Enserink. The papers are under review at Nature and Science. While the details won't be widely published, however, they may be made available to influenza researchers who have a legitimate interest, Enserink adds.

Some researchers say, however, that NSABB should have started dealing with this possibility a long time ago, writes Nature's Butler. "Because further research on the new variants now seems inevitable, a far more important question, they say, is whether the labs that hold samples of the virus — and those who will seek to work with them in the future — have sufficient biosafety protection to make sure it cannot escape," Butler says.