In Nature, Heidi Ledford speaks with pathogen-genomics expert Paul Keim of Northern Arizona University and TGen North about the controversial recommendation by the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity–Keim chairs the panel–that Nature and Science censor papers on how to make the H5N1 avian flu virus more transmissible:
“We’re being accused of being the bad guys,” says Keim, based at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. “But most of what we’ve done is to push back against harsher regulations.” Since its inception, Keim says that the NSABB has only been asked to review six papers, including two in 2005 that described the reconstruction of the 1918 influenza virus that is thought to have killed more than 20 million people. In that case, the board recommended that the papers simply be amended to spell out the public-health benefits of the research.
In the course of its deliberations over the H5N1 papers, the NSABB became aware of additional work on H5N1 transmissibility that was nearing publication. Keim says the board is now considering whether to recommend a voluntary moratorium on the publication of such work until the community can discuss further precautions to prevent misuse. He expects the board to vote on this in the next few weeks, and adds: “It is time for us to have a broad and global discussion.”
Read more: “Call to censor flu studies draws fire“