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H5N1 research symposium to be webcast live to public

The Royal Society in London will host an international symposium this week to address research issues surrounding H5N1 avian influenza research. Sponsored in part by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), the two-day meeting, April 3-4, will feature key influenza researchers and will be webcast to the public in its entirety.

The journals Nature and Science received papers in 2011 from two teams of researchers showing that the H5N1 virus could be genetically manipulated in ferrets, a model organism for influenza, to mutate into a form that might spread rapidly among a human population through aerosol transmission. Various national and international bodies, including the US National Security Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), have expressed concern that the safety and security of both research workers and wider society needs to be considered before work of this kind is published in full. Set against this is the basic principle of openness in science: scientists should operate openly and publish their findings. This conference will discuss virus research and the safety, security, and ethical aspects from the perspectives of participating researchers, publishers, policymakers and funders.

Speakers will include Paul Keim, Chair of the NSABB; Bruce Alberts, editor-in-chief of Science; Philip Campbell, editor-in-chief of Nature; and the researchers whose papers sparked the controversy, Ron Fouchier of the Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, and Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. A full copy of the program can be found online at http://royalsociety.org/events/2012/viruses/.

The entire proceedings of the 2-day symposium will be webcast live to the public on the internet. The webcast, which will feature all speakers' talks and their slides, open-floor discussions and news conferences can be accessed at http://www.voiceprompt.co.uk/royalsociety/030412/. The webcast will start on Tuesday April 3 at 9:00 a.m. BST (4:00 a.m. EDT). After the symposium the entire video of the meeting will be made available on demand online for 12 months.

The symposium is organized by the Royal Society in partnership with the Academy of Medical Sciences and the Foundation for Vaccine Research with support from the American Society for Microbiology, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Fondation Mérieux, the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, Institut Pasteur, and the Society for General Microbiology.

A previous symposium on H5N1 research issues held by the ASM at its annual biodefense meeting in February 2012 can be watched online at http://www.asmbiodefense.org/index.php/program-information/nsabbs-recommendations-for-h5n1-research.

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