Scientist Repeats Swine Flu ‘Lab-Escape’ Claim in Published Study
Simeon Bennett bloomberg.com 11-24-2009
Nov. 24 (Bloomberg) — Adrian Gibbs, the virologist who said in May that swine flu may have escaped from a laboratory, published his findings today, renewing discussion about the origins of the pandemic virus.
The new H1N1 strain, which was discovered in Mexico and the U.S. in April, may be the product of three strains from three continents that swapped genes in a lab or a vaccine-making plant, Gibbs, and fellow Australian scientists wrote in Virology Journal. The authors analyzed the genetic makeup of the virus and found its origin could be more simply explained by human involvement than a coincidence of nature.
Their study, published in a free, online journal reviewed by other scientists, follows debate among researchers six months ago, when Gibbs asked the World Health Organization to consider the hypothesis. After reviewing Gibbs’ initial three-page paper, WHO and other organizations concluded the pandemic strain was a naturally occurring virus and not laboratory-derived.
“It is important that the source of the new virus be found if we wish to avoid future pandemics rather than just trying to minimize the consequences after they have emerged,” Gibbs and colleagues John Armstrong and Jean Downie said in today’s eight- page study.
Gibbs and Armstrong are on the emeritus faculty at the Australian National University in Canberra and Downie is affiliated with the Centre for Infectious Diseases and Microbiology Laboratory Services at Sydney’s Westmead Hospital, according to the study.
While the exact source of the new H1N1 strain is a mystery, their research has “raised many new questions,” they said. The authors compared the genetic blueprints of flu strains stored in the free database Genbank and found the pandemic virus’s nearest ancestors circulate in pigs.
While migratory birds may have acted as conduit for their convergence, human involvement in bringing them together is “by far the simplest explanation,” Gibbs said in a telephone interview today.
Gibbs wrote or coauthored more than 250 scientific publications on viruses, mostly pertaining to the plant world, during his 39-year career at the Australian National University, according to biographical information on the university’s Web site.Share