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Outcry over Creation of GM Smallpox Virus
By Steve Connor
The Independent U.K.
Saturday 22 January 2005
Senior scientific advisers to the World Health Organisation (WHO) have recommended the creation of a genetically modified version of the smallpox virus to counter any threat of a bioterrorist attack.
Permitting researchers to engineer the genes of one of the most dangerous infections known to man would make it easier to develop new drugs against smallpox, the scientists said. But the man who led the successful global vaccination campaign to eradicate smallpox from the wild said he opposed the move on the grounds that the scientific benefits were not worth the risks to public health.
Professor Donald Henderson, of the Centre for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh, said he feared that tinkering with the genetic makeup of the variola virus - which causes smallpox - might accidentally produce a more lethal form of the disease.
"What I worry about is that there is rather too much done in this area and the minute you start fooling around with it in various ways, I think there is a danger," Professor Henderson said. "I'd be happier if we were not doing it and the simple reason is I just don't think it serves a purpose I can support. The less we do with the smallpox virus and the less we do in the way of manipulation at this point I think the better off we are."
Laboratory stocks of smallpox are stored at only two locations - one in America and one in Russia - but there are fears that samples of the virus may have fallen into the hands of terrorists.