Professor Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, along with a team of top epidemiologists, has recreated a virus nearly identical to the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918, which was responsible for more than 50 million deaths worldwide. The virus was engineered through a process known as "reverse genetics," using viruses from existing avian flu strains.
The team collected genes from an isolated population of wild ducks in which the avian flu is present, and were able to recreate a virus, said to be 97 per cent identical to the very deadly Spanish flu, according to the scientific journal Cell Host and Microbe.
The scientists infected ferrets with the virus, which was apparently easily transmitted among the animals. Professor Kawaoka claims the purpose of the study was "to evaluate the pandemic potential should such a 1918-like virus emerge."
However, the dangers posed to the general public by recreating the same virus that once infected more than a third of the world's population, and was actually found in the earth's most remote locations, including tiny Pacific islands as well as the Arctic, may far outweigh any possible future benefits.
Robert Kolter, professor of microbiology at Harvard Medical School, told The Independent:
The scientists doing this work are so immersed in their own self-aggrandizement, they have become completely blind to the irresponsibility of their acts. Their arguments in favor of such work, i.e. increase ability for surveillance, remain as weak as ever."
Unlike all other flu viruses, the 1918 virus overwhelmingly claimed the lives of young and otherwise healthy adults. Biologists have determined that the virus caused a catastrophic overreaction of the body's natural immune system. Of course, the immune system being stronger in those of young adults, that group was at particular risk of death, rather than traditionally vulnerable populations, such as small children and the elderly.
Imagine, if this newly-revived virus fell into the hands of a terrorist group, or if there was an accident in the lab currently housing the virus. The carnage would be devastating.
Or, could the risk be closer to home, so to speak?
On June 13, the Washington Times reported that the Department of Defense has been doling out millions of dollars in grants to universities for a project called the "Minerva Research Initiative," the purpose of which is to study "the dynamics of civil unrest — and how the U.S. military might best respond."
A disturbing part of this study set to take place between 2014 to 2017, has Cornell University researchers partnering with the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research to design a plan to deal with the "dynamics of social movement mobilization and contagions."
In this age of local police and sheriff's departments obtaining urban tanks, and billions of rounds of ammunition being purchased by the Department of Homeland Security, one would be at least 'a bit off' to not feel paranoid.