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Mail-Order Pox

Virologists in Canada say they have re-created horsepox using DNA parts they ordered via the mail, ScienceInsider reports. While it says that horsepox isn't harmful to people, ScienceInsider adds that the same approach could possibly be used to recreate smallpox, which is.

"No question. If it's possible with horsepox, it's possible with smallpox," Gerd Sutter from Ludwig Maximilians University in Germany tells ScienceInsider. Smallpox was eradicated in 1980.

The Canadian team led by the University of Alberta's David Evans purchased overlapping fragments of DNA from a DNA synthesis company to put together all the 212,000 basepairs of the horsepox virus genome. They then added this genome into cells that were infected with another kind of pox virus so that those cells also began producing the remade horsepox virus.

ScienceInsider adds that the work brings back up concerns about dual-use research. Gregory Koblentz, a biodefense expert at George Mason University, argues that the experiment should not have been conducted, while Peter Jahrling, a virologist at the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says it is novel and important work.

"The world just needs to accept the fact that you can do this and now we have to figure out what is the best strategy for dealing with that," Evans tells ScienceInsider.