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Limit for Resurrecting Old Viruses

Except for a handful of vials in the US and Russia, the smallpox virus has been eradicated from the globe, writes Leonard Adleman, a professor of computer science and molecular biology at the University of Southern California, in a New York Times op-ed. But, he adds that the virus has found a second host — the computer.

In the 1990s, Adleman notes, a team including Craig Venter sequenced the virus' genome, and it's easily accessible to anyone who searches online for it. While Adleman says that a computer file can't kill you, it's becoming easier for labs to re-create viruses from just their genome sequence.

"Do we sit and wait for the day when someone releases resurrected smallpox on an unvaccinated world?" he asks. "I'm a scientist, not a policy expert. But would it be wise for us to consider limiting the distribution of the tools of this emerging technology?"