Fondation Merieux

A family foundation dedicated to fighting infectious diseases

Freedom in biological research meeting: can science and biosecurity be reconciled

Lessons learned from the publication controversy over H5N1

Research on how the ’bird flu’ A/H5N1 influenza virus strain could be potentially transmitted among mammals spurred controversy last year when two publications submitted to Science and Nature were at first censored, then ultimately authorized, by the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB). The censorship was due to concerns that the publications would divulge information that could potentially be misused for bioterrorism. Beyond intentional misuse, the accidental escape of microbes from the laboratory is a reality and has been documented in the literature on several occasions.

In the name of biosecurity, can Society infringe upon the fundamental principle of Freedom of Science and the pursuit of knowledge?

Fondation Mérieux and Inserm, the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research, convened leading international experts at the Pensières conference center February 6th-8th to discuss freedom in biomedical research. Dr. David Relman, Professor in the Departments of Medicine and of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University; Prof. Albert Osterhaus, Head of the Institute of Virology, Erasmus Medical Center Rotterdam; Prof. Simon Wain-Hobson, Head of the Department of Molecular Retrovirology at the Pasteur Institute, France and Martin Enserink, a journalist writing for Science, were among the diverse panel of participants.

A publication is in preparation that will summarize the discussions held during the meeting on the potential benefits and risks of A/H5N1 bioengineering studies, new rules for dual-use biological research and the broader question of the autonomy of science.

Top of Page