Bird Flu

Scientists who created mutant forms of bird flu want to see their research published, and an influential advisory committee recently gave them the green light after a debate that lasted for months.

But one of the manuscripts is now being blocked from publication because of Dutch legal controls on the export of technology that could potentially be used for weapons.

It's just the latest example of how complicated international export control laws have affected the debate over what to do about two studies on bird flu.

In June of 2009, a committee met at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to do a routine safety review of proposed research projects.

One of those projects involved genetically modifying flu viruses. And during the review, the committee brought up the idea of "dual-use" research. "Dual use" means legitimate scientific work that's intended to advance science or medicine, but that also might be misused with the intent to do harm.

Two controversial studies on bird flu will once again be reviewed by an expert committee that advises the government on what to do with biological research that could pose potential dangers.

The move is just the latest development in a fierce ongoing debate about genetically altered flu viruses created in laboratories at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands and at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Scientists working with bird flu recently called a 60-day halt on some controversial experiments, and the unusual move has been compared to a famous moratorium on genetic engineering in the 1970s.

But key scientists involved in that event disagree on whether history is repeating itself.

"I see an amazing similarity," says Nobel Prize winner Paul Berg, of Stanford University.