Comment: The NSABB explains its recommendations for influenza papers

Latest news from Nature 31/01/2012

Comment: The NSABB explains its recommendations for influenza papers

The US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) today outlines, for the first time, the rationale behind its request for two H5N1 influenza papers to be published in a redacted form.

Two scientific research teams have modified influenza strains to create mutant avian influenza viruses that can be transmitted efficiently between mammals. In one case, the virus remained highly pathogenic. The US government asked the NSABB to consider the risks and benefits of communicating the full research results and to make recommendations for the responsible circulation of the research.

In a Comment released today, the board outlines its conclusion that publishing the work in full holds significant potential for harm. The NSABB therefore recommends that some experimental details and results be withheld from open communication. The members explain that the NSABB’s main concern is that publishing these experiments in detail would provide information that could help some person, organization or government to develop similar mammal-adapted influenza A/H5N1 viruses for harmful purposes.

The NSABB does, however, acknowledge that the work holds “clear benefits” in alerting humanity to the potential H5N1 threat, and that it could lead to greater preparedness and potential development of novel strategies for disease control. The board states that by recommending that the basic results be communicated without methods or details, the benefits to society will be maximized and the risks minimized.

In coordination with the release of this official statement, Nature today also publishes a Q&A with the acting chair of the NSABB. In it, he explains in more detail why they have recommended redaction for the paper in press at Nature even though the modified H5N1 virus that it describes is not highly pathogenic.


Paul Keim (Chair of the NSABB)
E-mail: [email protected]

Alternative contact;
Ruth Francis, Rachel Twinn or Neda Afsarmanesh in the Nature Press Office

E-mail: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]


Special Note:

The journals Nature and Science are jointly publishing the explanation by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity for its recommendations on the communication of experimental work on H5N1 influenza. Please refer also to the Science press office via EurekAlert!, or via: +1 202-326-6440 or [email protected].


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Published: 31 Jan 2012

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