The Obama administration has announced a new policy to handle the risks posed by legitimate biological research that could, in the wrong hands, threaten the public.
The move comes in response to a huge debate over recent experiments on bird flu virus that got funding from the National Institutes of Health. Critics say the work created mutant viruses that could potentially be dangerous for people, or give terrorists a road map for making a bioweapon.
A committee that advises the government, the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), is again meeting Friday to discuss those flu studies. Late last year, it recommended keeping some details secret. But a panel of experts, including flu virologists assembled by the World Health Organization, called for full publication.
The new policy is aimed at preventing this kind of controversy from happening in the future. It covers federally funded research — both ongoing work and future proposals. And it calls for special reviews of work that involves a list of 15 particularly nasty pathogens and toxins, including highly pathogenic bird flu virus, anthrax and Ebola.