Flu virus- Return to sender; Patent power - antigravity device and Rule breaking and review boards

The reconstructed version of the flu virus that caused the 1918 world pandemic will be mailed to registered labs in the US that ask for it; A US patent has been granted for an antigravity device. Watchdogs can sometimes provoke scientific misconduct


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VOL.438 NO.7065 DATED 10 NOVEMBER 2005

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News: Return to sender

The reconstructed version of the flu virus that caused the 1918 world
pandemic will be mailed to registered labs in the United States that ask for
it, Nature has learned and reports in a news exclusive this week.

Last month, US researchers published in Nature the complete DNA sequence of
the virus, which killed some 50 million people worldwide. Another group used
that sequence to reconstruct the complete virus for the first time. Critics
said then that the virus should never have been recreated, as it could
escape and cause another pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, where
the virus is held, countered concerns that it might escape by saying it
would not be sent out to other labs. The agency now seems to have changed
its mind. A spokesman told Nature last week that labs that are registered to
work with special agents - dangerous pathogens that are subject to specific
handling rules - will be able to receive the virus via commercial carriers.
The prospect alarms some virologists, who say that it increases the chances
that the virus will escape and cause another pandemic.

Andreas Von Bubnoff (Journalist, Nature)
Tel: +1 202 626 2514; E-mail: [email protected]
<mailto:[email protected]>

News: Patent power

The US patent office has granted a patent on a design for an antigravity
device - breaking its own resolution to reject inventions that clearly defy
the laws of physics, reports a news exclusive in this week's Nature.

Patent 6,960,975 was granted on 1 November to Boris Volfson of Huntington,
Indiana. It describes a space vehicle propelled by a superconducting shield,
which alters the curvature of space-time outside the craft in a way that
counteracts gravity. One of the main theoretical arguments against
antigravity is that it implies the availability of unlimited energy.

"If you design an antigravity machine, you've got a perpetual-motion
machine," says Robert Park, watchdog of junk science at the American
Physical Society in Washington DC. Shield half of a wheel from gravity and
it will keep turning forever. This is not the first such patent to be
granted, but it shows that patent examiners are being duped by false
science, says Park.

Philip Ball (Journalist, Nature)
Tel: +44 208 693 6336; E-mail: [email protected]
<mailto:[email protected]>

News: Rule breaking and review boards

The watchdogs that oversee the ethics of human research projects can
sometimes provoke scientific misconduct, according to a News exclusive in

The counter-intuitive conclusion is put forward in a series of papers to be
published over the next few months. The authors, specialists in research
ethics, began their research after finding that some scientists, having
become frustrated at the functioning of ethical review boards, are running
experiments without proper approval. The authors have now backed up such
anecdotal evidence with data from surveys, role-play exercises and theories
of workplace behaviour.

"I realized that there are ethical scientists who want to do things the
right way but who are having to distort their research protocols because of
perceived unreasonable or ridiculous demands from institutional review
boards," says Patricia Keith-Spiegel of Simmons College in Boston,

Jim Giles (Journalist, Nature)
Tel: +44 20 7843 4645; E-mail: [email protected]
<mailto:[email protected]>

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Ruth Francis, Nature London
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Published: 09 Nov 2005

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