The conspiracy theorists will be ALL over this, because they will assume that if you can have an accident in a test tube, you can have a deliberate act in a test tube. Frankly I don't think we are that smart yet, but accidents? They are the mechanism of evolution. Now get this.
The World Health Organisation is investigating a claim by an Australian researcher that the swine flu virus circling the globe may have been created as a result of human error.
Adrian Gibbs, 75, who collaborated on research that led to the development of Roche's Tamiflu drug, said in an interview that he intends to publish a report suggesting the new strain may have accidentally evolved in eggs scientists use to grow viruses and drugmakers use to make vaccines. Gibbs said he came to his conclusion as part of an effort to trace the virus's origins by analysing its genetic blueprint.
The World Health Organisation received the study last weekend and is reviewing it, Keiji Fukuda, the agency's assistant director-general of health security and environment, said in an interview. Gibbs, who has studied germ evolution for four decades, is one of the first scientists to analyse the genetic makeup of the virus that was identified three weeks ago in Mexico and threatens to touch off the first flu pandemic since 1968.
A virus that resulted from lab experimentation or vaccine production may indicate a greater need for security, Fukuda said. By pinpointing the source of the virus, scientists also may better understand the microbe's potential for spreading and causing illness, Gibbs said.
[...] Gibbs and two colleagues analysed the publicly available sequences of hundreds of amino acids coded by each of the flu virus's eight genes. He said he aims to submit his three-page paper today for publication in a medical journal.
[...]The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has received the report and has decided there is no evidence to support Gibbs's conclusion, said Nancy Cox, director of the agency's influenza division. She said since researchers don't have samples of swine flu viruses from South America and Africa, where the new strain may have evolved, those regions can't be ruled out as natural sources for the new flu.
''We are interested in the origins of this new influenza virus,'' Cox said. ''But contrary to what the author has found, when we do the comparisons that are most relevant, there is no evidence that this virus was derived by passage in eggs.''
On the other hand, absence of evidence is not evidence and they ARE taking it seriously.
The WHO's collaborative influenza research centers, which includes the CDC, and sites in Memphis, Melbourne, London and Tokyo, were asked by the international health agency to review the study over the weekend, Fukuda said. The request was extended to scientists at the Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, the World Organization for Animal Health in Paris, as well as the WHO's influenza network, he said.
[...] Gibbs said his analysis supports research by scientists including Richard Webby, a virologist at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, who found the new strain is the product of two distinct lineages of influenza that have circulated among swine in North America and Europe for more than a decade.
In addition, his research found the rate of genetic mutation in the new virus outpaced that of the most closely related viruses found in pigs, suggesting it evolved outside of swine, Gibbs said.
[...] Gibbs said he has no evidence that the swine-derived virus was a deliberate, man-made product.
The fact is that there is no evidence of the flu in the pig farms near the human source of this virus and the only pigs that appear to have contracted it in North America seem to have picked it up from people, so the question about its origin is deadly serious.
As we push the environment harder and harder, both outside in the world and inside in the lab, we increase the number of opportunities for weirdness.
And whatever the answer, this sucker is definitely weird.