In June of 2009, a committee met at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to do a routine safety review of proposed research projects.
One of those projects involved genetically modifying flu viruses. And during the review, the committee brought up the idea of “dual-use” research. “Dual use” means legitimate scientific work that’s intended to advance science or medicine, but that also might be misused with the intent to do harm.
Now, nearly three years after that meeting, this flu research — along with similar work done in the Netherlands — has the science community in an uproar. Scientists, security experts, flu virologists and others are arguing over whether the details of experiments with lab-altered forms of bird flu can be made public, or whether that would amount to publishing the recipe for a superflu that could be used as a bioweapon.
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