Genetic switch to guard against escaped ísupervirusesí
2013-08-14 0:00

By Priya Shetty | NewScientist



It sounds like the plot of a Hollywood disaster movie: scientists tinker with a flu virus to make it more deadly, only for the mutant strain to escape and trigger a pandemic.

Yet flu scientists are currently at loggerheads over experiments to make the H7N9 bird influenza virus that emerged in China earlier this year even more dangerous.

Some argue that "gain of function" experiments to make the virus more infectious, more deadly and drug resistant in ferrets Ė the best available test animal for human flu Ė offer up vital information that could help us defend against a pandemic.

Other scientists are concerned that deliberately creating a supervirus could provide a weapon to bioterrorists. Whatís more, they point out, existing biosafety measures Ė such as requiring researchers to wear special safety suits and go through decontamination chambers when leaving the lab Ė may not be enough to prevent the virus spreading.

Now, a team led by Benjamin tenOever, at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, has devised a genetic failsafe that would switch off mutant strains if they escaped from the lab and infected humans.

Genetic tag

tenOeverís team tweaked an H3N2 flu strain, a common cause of seasonal flu, by tagging it with a single strand of microRNA, a sequence of genetic material that when paired with a complementary sequence, can switch genes on and off.

The microRNA put into the virus is chosen so that when it is met by a matching strand in its host organism, the virusís replication genes get shut down.

By using a microRNA that exists in human and mice lung cells but not in ferrets, tenOever and his team developed a modified virus that could replicate in ferrets during their experiments but not in mice or humans, if it ever escaped the lab.

The study comes shortly after a letter was published in Science and Nature by Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and 23 colleagues, defending such research on the basis that the best way to prevent a worst-case scenario is to provoke one.

The letter was intended to prevent a similar furore to the one that erupted in late 2011 surrounding gain of function experiments, which Fouchier also led, on another avian influenza strain, H5N1. It resulted in the publication of the work being delayed by nine months.

tenOever says that Fouchierís H5N1 research was key in identifying mutations that would make the bird virus start to spread between mammals. "This knowledge was critical to focus our surveillance efforts to monitor the virus and predict when the risk of disease justifies vaccine development."

Unpredictable consequences

Marc Lipsitch at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston is unconvinced. He considers gain of function studies highly risky. And the genetic failsafe proposed by tenOeverís team may itself be volatile, he says. "Engineering the restrictive sequence is a change with unpredictable consequences, which could make experiments even harder to interpret and also provide a false sense of security".

Michael Imperiale at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor agrees. "My concern is that the microRNA target on the viral genome will just mutate in the same way that a virus develops drug resistance."

[...]

Read the full article at: newscientist.com



Tune into Red Ice Radio:

Sonia Barrett & Sharry Edwards - Hour 1 - The Business of Disease

Rudy Mazzocchi - Black Market of Human Organ Transplants

H.P. Albarelli Jr. - Germ Warfare, CIA, LSD and the Murder of Dr. Frank Olson

Peter Duesberg - The Invention of AIDS

David Icke - Swine Flu, Mass Vaccinations & G20

Dr. Leonard Horowitz - The Pharmaceutical Industry, Vaccines & Frequency 528

Rupert Sheldrake - The Science Delusion

Catherine Austine Fitts - Swine Flu, Vaccination & The Economy




Related Articles
Oops: Vial of deadly virus goes missing from secure biomedical lab
U.S. virologists intentionally engineer super-deadly pandemic flu virus
"Pandemic" Simulated Reality Show has audience participate in graphic survival scenarios (Video)
Did doctors jumpstart the HIV pandemic?
The íFalseí Pandemic: Drug Firms Cashed in on Scare over Swine Flu, Claims Euro Health Chief
DARPA to Genetically Engineer Humans by Adding a 47th Chromosome
The when and where of Y: Research on Y chromosomes uncovers new clues about human ancestry


Latest News from our Front Page

Better Identification of Viking Corpses Reveals: Half of the Warriors Were Female
2015-04-25 4:52
Shieldmaidens are not a myth! A recent archaeological discovery has shattered the stereotype of exclusively male Viking warriors sailing out to war while their long-suffering wives wait at home with baby Vikings. (We knew it! We always knew it.) Plus, some other findings are challenging that whole ‚Äúrape and pillage‚ÄĚ thing, too. Researchers at the University of Western Australia decided ...
Off Your Knees, Germany! Ernst Zundel 1983 - 2003
2015-04-25 1:15
For more information on the holocaust, how the war was forced upon Germany, and the REAL victims of the second world war see: http://gblt.webs.com/Real_Holocaust.htm http://web.archive.org/web/20130806074314/http://www.666blacksun.org/ http://www.zundelsite.org/
IRS Drops Attack For Six Years ‚Äď No Evidence of Jurisdiction
2015-04-24 20:29
A big congrats to a friend I‚Äôve been working with for several years, he stood up to the predators commonly called the ‚ÄúIRS‚ÄĚ and they dropped their attack. Thanks also for providing me with the proof below. The criminals called the ‚ÄúIRS‚ÄĚ initiated an attack claiming my friend was required to file six tax returns, or explain how he made ...
Into Eternity - Finland's 100,000 Year Massive Underground Spent Nuclear Fuel Program
2015-04-24 20:49
Into Eternity is a documentary about a deep geological repository for nuclear waste. The concept of long-term underground storage for radioactive waste has been explored since the 1950s. The inner part of the Russian doll-like storage canisters is to be composed of copper. Hence in the case of Onkalo it is tightly linked to experiments on copper corrosion in running ...
SPLC Accuses Oath Keepers of Inciting ‚ÄúArmed Confrontation‚ÄĚ Over Sugar Pine Mine
2015-04-24 20:22
The Southern Poverty Law Center has accused Oath Keepers of inciting an armed confrontation with BLM authorities over the Sugar Pine Mine dispute in Oregon, despite the fact that the organization has explicitly stated that it is not promoting armed confrontation with the feds. In an article provocatively posted on the organization‚Äôs ‚ÄėHatewatch‚Äô section entitled Oath Keepers Descend Upon Oregon with ...
More News »