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H5N1 Researcher to Defy Dutch Gov’t?

A virologist at the center of avian flu research controversy says he’ll publish without government permits.

Megan Scudellari

Two avian influenza A (H5N1) virionsWIKIMEDIA COMMONS, CYNTHIA GOLDSMITH/JACKIE KATZ

Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, who last September announced the creation of a mutant version of the H5N1 avian flu virus transmissible between ferrets, says that he is prepared to defy the Dutch government’s export controls that have prevented him from submitting his work for publication, according to Nature.

Earlier this month, a US biosecurity panel recommended the full publication of the his group’s paper, as well as similar research out of the University of Wisconsin, Madison—contrary to the board’s original findings last December that some of the results should be redacted. But even with the US government’s okay, Fouchier has recently complained that the Dutch government’s export laws are standing in the way. Now Fouchier says that he is prepared to defy the government and submit the work anyway, an action that...

A spokesman for the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture, and Innovation told Nature that the government has not yet received an application from the Erasmus Medical Center for an export permit for the paper. The Dutch government plans to meet next week (April 23) to assess the risks and benefits of publishing the research. But even if they do insist on a permit, Fouchier says he will still publish.

“We simply will never apply for an export permit on a scientific manuscript for publication in a journal. We do not want to create a precedent here,” he told Nature. “We might end up in court indeed if they insist on censorship.”

For more on the debate of whether or not to publish these controversial studies, see our April 2012 feature, Deliberating Over Danger.”

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