Public Release: 

Moving forward with controversial H5N1 research

Renowned virus experts address the moratorium on potentially hazardous H5N1 influenza research

Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

Last winter, scientists at the University of Wisconsin and Erasmus University (Netherlands) shocked the world by announcing they had developed strains of H5N1 influenza that could easily pass between mammals (ferrets). In nature, H5N1 is extremely lethal (kills nearly 60% of its human cases), but it does not easily spread from person-to-person. Thus, biosafety concerns were raised over the possible release, accidental or intentional, of these new viruses.

In January 2012, an international panel of 39 influenza researchers agreed on a 6-month moratorium on all gain-of-function H5N1 research--classified as "dual-use research of concern" or DURC. This was followed over the summer by an indefinite continuation of the ban by the U.S. government until consensus emerges on how to proceed.

To advance this discussion, the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) journal mBio will publish a special issue of commentaries on the pros and cons of DURC from global experts in virology and public health (full list below).

Here is a brief summary.

ASM officials Arturo Casadevall and Thomas Shenk set the stage by discussing the major events that led to the moratorium.

Anthony Fauci, head of NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, reviews how the U.S. government plans to proceed.

Concerns over laboratory biocontainment are addressed by Professor W. Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection & Immunity at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

The authors of the controversial research, Ron A. M. Fouchier and Yoshihiro Kawaoka¬¬¬, along with Adolfo García-Sastre, highlight the importance of DURC and why the moratorium should be lifted.

Public health experts Marc Lipsitch and Barry Bloom assess the probability of an accidental release from laboratories with advanced security.

Finally, Stanley Falkow, who attended the infamous 1975 Asilomar conference, provides historical context by comparing the current H5N1 moratorium to lessons learned from the moratorium on recombinant DNA technology.


Inquiring reporters can receive an advance copy by contacting: Nsikan Akpan, Mailman School of Public Health's Center for Infection and Immunity, 212-342-9051, or Stephanie Berger, Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, 212-305-4372,

Commentary Titles and Contributing Authors
The H5N1 Moratorium Controversy and Debate
Arturo Casadevall (Albert Einstein College of Medicine)
Founding Editor-in-Chief, mBio
Professor / Leo and Julia Forchheimer Chair in Microbiology & Immunology

Thomas Shenk (Princeton University)
Chair, American Society of Microbiology Publications Board
James A. Elkins Jr. Professor in the Life Sciences

Research on Highly Pathogenic H5N1 Influenza Virus: The Way Forward
Anthony S. Fauci (National Institutes of Health)
Head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

Biocontainment in Gain-of-Function Infectious Disease Research
W. Ian Lipkin (Columbia University)
Director of the Center for Infection and Immunity
John Snow Professor of Epidemiology at Mailman School of Public Health.

The pause on avian H5N1 influenza virus transmission research should be ended
Ron A.M. Fouchier (Erasmus University),
Professor of Virology

Adolfo García-Sastre (Mount Sinai School of Medicine)
Professor of Medicine and Microbiology
Co-director of the Global Health & Emerging Pathogens Institute

Yoshihiro Kawaoka (University of Wisconsin-Madison; University of Tokyo)

Rethinking Biosafety in Research on Potential Pandemic Pathogens
Marc Lipsitch (Harvard University)
Professor of Epidemiology
Director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics

Barry R. Bloom (Harvard University)
Distinguished Service Professor
Joan L. and Julius H. Jacobson Professor of Public Health

The Lessons of Asilomar and the H5N1 "Affair"
Stanley Falkow (Stanford University)
Robert W. and Vivian K. Cahill Professor Emeritus of Microbiology and Immunology and Medicine Director Stanford DTFE Project

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