The amateur biologist tinkering away in her garage is Michael Osterholm's biggest concern when it comes to the potential publication of the mutated H5N1 bird flu virus papers.
After months of debate, The New York Times reports, "a panel of scientists brought together by the World Health Organization recommended last week in favor of publishing the [mutH5N1] results." Still, it adds, "there is no word on exactly when those papers — withheld since last fall by the journals Nature and Science — will appear."
As the Times reports, the University of Minnesota's Osterholm recently expressed worry over the "garage scientist, about the do-your-own scientist, about the person who just wants to try and see if they can do it," at a biosecurity meeting. Albert Einstein College of Medicine's Arturo Casadevall agrees, telling the Times that "humans are very inventive."
But advocates of DIY biology say that "such fears … are wildly exaggerated," the Times reports. "I am really sick and tired of folks waving this particular red flag," Ellen Jorgensen, president of community biotech lab Genspace, tells the paper.
Whether — or when — the mutH5N1 studies are made public may be of little importance, though. The Times says that while "synthesizing viruses has a high-tech glamour about it … trained virologists could use a simpler method. Knowing the mutations acquired by mutH5N1, they could simply alter ordinary H5N1 viruses at the same sites in its genes to match it." Plus, it adds, given the "details that have already emerged" about the mutated virus, virologists might already be able to make it.