ART -- Do You Know about this? Arthur Anderson Art artnscience-(at)-yahoo.com
Yes. I thought it was a little risky to send a team up to the permafrost to recover the 1918 Flu virus. The intent of the AFIP team was to sequence enough of it to be able to design better vaccines or antiviral drugs not to "reconstruct" a whole infectious virus. With genetic techniques it is possible to learn a lot about a virus without ever having to grow it. The P in AFIP stands for Pathology, so the main purpose my colleagues down at that institute had was to get enough of the key sequences to be able to construct primers that could be used in their high tech diagnostics devices. This would allow rapid diagnosis within hours if such a virus or similar virus should actually appear.
The UK team sound like they have the potential or intent to make a whole virus that is actually infectious. I think this is a dangerous thing to consider and I can appreciate your concern. I also thought it was dangerous for folks to go to the site where the bodies were to recover samples. Supposing there were intact viruses in the frozen bodies, the explorers could get infected and that would re-start the 1918 epidemic. They didn't and the viruses weren't intact. However, the AFIP team were able to recover fragments of viral genes that could be used to design diagnostics.
Actually, I worry more about the folks who go into the Andes to recover Inca mummies from above the frost line. One of these days one of them will get infected with a disease that may have died out thousands of years ago. Diseases die out spontaneously because they kill faster than they spread; and, if there are no "reservoirs" where the disease virus can camp out until some future date, the disease is effectively dead after one run. Check out these links (below). I am one of the folks who answer questions for the MadScientist Network. We're not Mad, actually ;)
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