Genetic switch to guard against escaped ’superviruses’
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 – the best available test animal for human flu – 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. What’s more, they point out, existing biosafety measures – such as requiring researchers to wear special safety suits and go through decontamination chambers when leaving the lab – 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

tenOever’s 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 virus’s 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 Fouchier’s 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 tenOever’s 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:

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 ’False’ 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

The Daily Shoah has been censored by Soundcloud
2015-11-25 22:56
Editor's note: The PC corporate moral police strike again. Just as Radio 3Fourteen & Red Ice Radio were censored from iTunes, The Daily Shoah was pulled from Soundcloud today. As per usual, there is a double standard, they allow any kind of anti-White material: ... From: Soundcloud took it upon themselves to delete our account this morning. We'll figure something out, but in ...
Merkel Welcomes A Million More: Vows To Stand By Refugee Policy Despite Security Fears
2015-11-25 21:05
Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed on Wednesday to stick to her open-door refugee policy, defying criticism at home and abroad which has intensified due to growing fears about a potential security risk after the Islamist attacks in Paris. Conservative Merkel faces splits in her right-left coalition and pressure from EU states, including France, over her insistence that Germany can cope with up ...
Paris Terrorist Was Gay 'Rent Boy', On The Run From Islamic State And Police
2015-11-25 20:16
The elusive eighth Paris attacker and one of three brothers implicated in the atrocity reportedly frequented gay clubs before the attack. He may have backed out of his mission at the last minute, and is possibly on the run from Islamic State as well as authorities. “We had him down as a rent boy, he was always hanging out with that ...
Norwegian school brutally kicks out students, reopens as immigration center
2015-11-25 1:46
A failing Norwegian school has brutally kicked out all of the students living there with just a few days notice to find somewhere else to live and study. It has now reopened as a reception center for immigrants. The school, called Waldorf, is in the Røyken municipality of Buskerud County. It had been failing for sometime, and was officially declared bankrupt ...
Why not hear about Islam from a woman who grew up as Muslim in the ME?
2015-11-25 1:52
Youtube description: She says: "I have reached a boiling point with these lies about Islam! Please share it, don't let me waste my breath....go to for a translation of the ISIS website along with other great articles and podcasts!" Source:
More News »