We've written that U.S. scientists are recreating the lethal Spanish Flu, that killed 20-40 million people in 1918. Now we've learned that scientists have also created an extremely deadly genetically-engineered form of mousepox, a relative of the smallpox virus. Although it should only be lethal for mice, geneticist Ian Ramshaw says, "I have great concern about doing this in a pox virus that can cross species?You'd hope (it) remains mouse-specific."
Debora MacKenzie writes in New Scientist that the new mousepox virus even kills mice that have been given drugs and vaccines that would protect them from the ordinary version of the disease. Mark Buller says he's doing the research in order to explore what bioterrorists might do. But we'd better be careful we don't do it to ourselves, the way we did in the anthrax scare, when anthrax spores from a U.S. lab were mailed by someone with access to them?probably a researcher.
Although he's cautious about this type of research, Ramshaw has also created a deadly GM mousepox strain. One good thing about these new diseases is that they are not contagious, meaning that if they escaped from the lab, they wouldn't spread around the world, wiping out the mouse population. However, demonstrating that this can be done might inspire a terrorist to modify a pox virus that affects humans, and there's no guarantee that this one would not be contagious.
With research like this, it's becoming Halloween every day! Don't miss our Screamland special, when Whitley interviews a ghost hunter and, for subscribers, Konstantinos--who knows all about vampires.
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