Leading article: A little biotech knowledge may be a catastrophic thing

Tuesday 20 December 2011 01:00 GMT

The thought of researchers at a Dutch university deliberately turning the deadly but relatively difficult-to-catch bird-flu virus into a highly infectious airborne super strain is enough to make even the staunchest advocate of scientific progress turn cold.

Not because the work should not have been done: efforts to gauge the threat of mutation – and, therefore, pandemic – are entirely valid. Rather, the issue is what happens to the knowledge of how the experiments were done. In the wrong hands, it could be turned to inconceivably devastating effect, dwarfing even the threat of a dirty nuclear bomb.

The US government watchdog charged with deciding what details should be published must tread a careful line. But it must also err on the side of caution. As has been so perilously proved with nuclear-weapons technology, the genie, once out of the bottle, is impossible to recapture.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in