Evolution, safety, and highly pathogenic influenza viruses

Science. 2012 Jun 22;336(6088):1529-31. doi: 10.1126/science.1223204.


Experience with influenza has shown that predictions of virus phenotype or fitness from nucleotide sequence are imperfect and that predicting the timing and course of evolution is extremely difficult. Such uncertainty means that the risk of experiments with mammalian-transmissible, possibly highly virulent influenza viruses remains high even if some aspects of their laboratory biology are reassuring; it also implies limitations on the ability of laboratory observations to guide interpretation of surveillance of strains in the field. Thus, we propose that future experiments with virulent pathogens whose accidental or deliberate release could lead to extensive spread in human populations should be limited by explicit risk-benefit considerations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigenic Variation
  • Antigens, Viral
  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use
  • Biohazard Release
  • Containment of Biohazards*
  • Drug Resistance, Viral
  • Evolution, Molecular*
  • Ferrets
  • Humans
  • Influenza A Virus, H5N1 Subtype / genetics
  • Influenza A Virus, H5N1 Subtype / pathogenicity*
  • Influenza A virus / drug effects
  • Influenza A virus / genetics
  • Influenza A virus / immunology
  • Influenza A virus / pathogenicity*
  • Influenza, Human / drug therapy
  • Influenza, Human / transmission
  • Influenza, Human / virology*
  • Laboratory Infection / epidemiology
  • Mutation
  • Orthomyxoviridae Infections / transmission
  • Orthomyxoviridae Infections / virology*
  • Public Policy
  • Risk Assessment
  • Safety*
  • Security Measures
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Antigens, Viral
  • Antiviral Agents