Shouldn't regular citizens be able to weigh in on whether scientists are allowed to play with a virus that could kill a third of the population?
It might be the most lethal invention ever to come out of a lab. "I can't think of another pathogenic organism that is as scary as this one," the microbiologist Paul Kiem told The New Scientist.
The frightening new virus was created by Ron Fouchier, a researcher in the Netherlands, last year as he was experimenting with the bird flu. So far, human-to-human transmission of the bird flu has been rare because the virus lacks the necessary equipment to travel in a sneeze. But for years public-health experts have feared that it would one day go airborne. The bird flu has killed roughly 50 percent of the few people it has infected. If it could spread as easily as the seasonal flu, it would kill with the ferocity of a doomsday virus in a science-fiction movie.
And now that worst-case virus may have arrived. In the course of his investigations, Fouchier inadvertently engineered a virus that passes its death sentence through a sneeze. For now, the virus only exists in a lab in Rotterdam. (A somewhat less lethal version was created by another team of scientists last year, in Madison, Wisconsin.) Though the virus has only been tested in ferrets, which have respiratory tracts similar to our own, many scientists agree there's a good chance it could be just as lethal in humans.