Biology

Bird Flu Genome: Recipe for disaster?

Posted by: Tedconfjune

Some of the world’s greatest minds are consumed these days with the threat of avian flu. In an effort to better understand the evolution of the virus, scientists recently decoded — and published — the genome of the 1918 flu virus (which also jumped from birds to humans). A grave mistake, according to two eminent TEDsters. In today’s New York Times, inventor Ray Kurzweil (TED2005) and Sun Microsystems founder Bill Joy (who will speak at TED2006), argue that publishing this genome is a matter of national — or, rather, global — security. It would be easier, they argue, to create and release this virus than it would be to build and detonate an atomic bomb. Chilling … and well-argued.

Comments (1)

  • Gregory Petsko commented on Oct 25 2005

    Kurzweil and Joy make a strong case for keeping the bird flu genome sequence secret, but I don’t find it compelling. This information is different from, say, the formula for a new form of poison gas. The H5N1 strain of avian influenza virus that is curretly spreading around the world is constantly evloving, without any malignant human intervention, and could on its own mutate into essentially the same strain as the one that caused the 1918 pandemic (it’s allready not that different). Wide dissemination of the sequence of the 1918 strain represents our best chance of finding ways to combat such an outbreak when it occurs naturally, which I believe is a much more likely possibility than a man-made event. Besides, what is the record of attempts to keep sensitive information a secret? The A-bomb information was in the hands of the Russians about five minutes after it was discovered. Materials might be safeguarded; information cannot be confined.