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You Got Transmissibility in My Lethality!
November 15, 2009 11:06 PM   Subscribe

In a hot lab in the center of Lyon, space-suited virologists want to create a superflu as contagious as H1N1 and as lethal as H5N1. Why? So nature doesn't get there first.
posted by drdanger (51 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, I hope in the future they'll have some insurance so that they can travel back in time and fix that part where this didn't go quite as planned.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:29 PM on November 15, 2009 [8 favorites]


We'll just have Donald Sutherland order the nuking of a town. No biggie.
posted by cloax at 11:31 PM on November 15, 2009


In fiction this facility would have some kind of nuclear fail-safe. Suddenly I'm pining for the work of Michael Crichton for a change.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:32 PM on November 15, 2009


Isn't that something they should be working on way out in the middle of nowhere?
posted by dunkadunc at 11:46 PM on November 15, 2009


\o/ wooooooooo
posted by davejay at 11:48 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is this what that 2012 movie is all about?
posted by heyho at 11:48 PM on November 15, 2009


Jeffrey Goines: You know what crazy is? Crazy is majority rules. Take germs, for example.
James Cole: Germs?
Jeffrey Goines: Uh-huh. In the eighteenth century, no such thing, nada, nothing. No one ever imagined such a thing. No sane person, anyway. Ah! Ah! Along comes this doctor, uh, uh, uh, Semmelweis, Semmelweis. Semmelweis comes along. He's trying to convince people, well, other doctors mainly, that's there's these teeny tiny invisible bad things called germs that get into your body and make you sick. Ah? He's trying to get doctors to wash their hands. What is this guy? Crazy? Teeny, tiny, invisible? What do you call it? Uh-uh, germs? Huh? What? Now, cut to the 20th century. Last week, as a matter of fact, before I got dragged into this hellhole. I go in to order a burger in this fast food joint, and the guy drops it on the floor. Jim, he picks it up, he wipes it off, he hands it to me like it's all OK. "What about the germs?" I say. He says, "I don't believe in germs. Germs is just a plot they made up so they can sell you disinfectants and soaps." Now he's crazy, right? See?
posted by DreamerFi at 11:50 PM on November 15, 2009 [15 favorites]


Thank you, nature.com, I really enjoyed that breathtaking 260px × 138px image.
posted by crapmatic at 12:08 AM on November 16, 2009 [9 favorites]


Dont be paranoid, guys. Nothing has ever been removed from a secure government facility.
posted by Justinian at 12:09 AM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Okay, so this is a really stupid thing to do, given the risk involved, but to France's credit, at least the French equivalent of George Bush II didn't fund the construction of a bioweapons research facility in a fucking hurricane zone.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:15 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


BRB, moving to island and sealing the borders with radioactive dust and flamethrowers.

(Can I hit the people who think this is a good idea upside the head with an unabridged hardcover edition of The Stand until they recant?)
posted by rodgerd at 12:15 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've really gotta compliment you on your lede.
posted by painquale at 12:15 AM on November 16, 2009


It's science done with a teen-ager's mentality: If nothing goes wrong, this was a smart thing to do.

Isn't this kind of science where computers come in?
posted by From Bklyn at 12:30 AM on November 16, 2009


I don't see Marburg or smallpox ravaging Atlanta, and the CDC keeps live samples of that stuff practically in the middle of downtown, so I'm not really worried.

What's that? These folks are FRENCH?

*runs screaming*

I kid because I love.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:37 AM on November 16, 2009


They do all of their chemical testing in the back seat of a Citroën DS. It's all quite romantic and artsy, really.
posted by davejay at 12:53 AM on November 16, 2009 [6 favorites]


Yay!!! Zombie apocolypse!!!
posted by seanyboy at 1:02 AM on November 16, 2009


...doom doom doom-doom DOOM doom-doom-doom doom DOOM doom-doom DOOM doom doom-doom DOOM doom doom-doom doom...
posted by loquacious at 1:11 AM on November 16, 2009 [6 favorites]


doomy doomy doomy doo
posted by flaterik at 1:29 AM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm the only one who thinks this is brilliant science?
posted by mhjb at 1:30 AM on November 16, 2009 [3 favorites]


So I've had a lot of weird dreams about this kindly old black woman lately...
posted by Rhaomi at 1:37 AM on November 16, 2009 [5 favorites]


Capitán Voyage?
posted by maxwelton at 1:38 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think I've seen this movie.

Also, talk about sending anti-vaxxers into a fit. Don't half of them think that H1N1 was cooked up in a lab? If a virus like this ever did get into the public, how many people would imagine that it was released on purpose?
posted by delmoi at 2:42 AM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


This will mononegavirale.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:19 AM on November 16, 2009


It's not mentioned in the article but the cdc is/was doing this as well.
posted by sundri at 4:41 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why? So nature doesn't get there first.

Goddamned Mother-fucking-Nature, always beating us to the punch, always coming up with the cool shit first, getting all the awards and all the fame. Well NOT. THIS. TIME. This time, we build the super-scary-contagious shit. See how you like that, punk.

But we're totally going to be so responsible with it unlike YOU, you infecting-the-world-with-your-virii bitch.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:44 AM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Don't half of them think that H1N1 was cooked up in a lab?

Uh huh. I recall reading a scare story at some anti "illuminati" nut-hole that raged about a press release mentioning that H1N1 had been cultured in a lab. Well, how the fuck else are you supposed to investigate a novel pathogen? Idiots.
posted by fleetmouse at 4:46 AM on November 16, 2009


Now, I'm not a biologist, but can't you get an H1N1 culture just by, say, coughing into a petri dish?
posted by Jugwine at 5:11 AM on November 16, 2009


A luscious bitch she is, true;
but it's not nice to fool mother nature.
The proud mother of God, like all ho's;
is jealous of her own shadow.
Who is this young, Vic Tanny bitch;
who wish to be queen for a day;
who would sacrifice the great grandsons and daughters of her jealous mother;
by sucking their brain until their ability to think was amputated;
by pimping their instincts;
until they were fat, horny, and strung-out;
in a neurotic attempt to be queen of the universe?
Who is this bitch?
posted by Pollomacho at 5:15 AM on November 16, 2009


I think I've seen this movie.

I think this is the one where the dude's staring into the swirling blackness of his coffee cup, and then mixes in some H1N1, right? And he's all:
"Where is the beginning? But what beginning? The science-men created H1N1 and H5N1. But one should be able to put it better. To say that the limits of malady, of my malady, are those of the world, of my world, and that in combining the strains, I save the world, I fix it. And when mysterious, logical death abolishes my attempts at disease-control, there will be no question, no answer, just vagueness."
posted by Greg Nog at 5:38 AM on November 16, 2009


I read a pretty awesome book about epidemiologists working in hotzones - Level 4: Virus Hunters in the CDC. These researchers have serious balls for the level of risk that they're in, even with the space suits.

Uh, yeah. I read about deadly viruses in my free time.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:48 AM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang
But a whimper
posted by scalefree at 6:20 AM on November 16, 2009


This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang
But a whimper sneeze

posted by sundri at 6:25 AM on November 16, 2009 [8 favorites]


Just to help put this in context, the normal seasonal flu has a death rate of about 0.1%. H1N1, which is apparently pretty scary, may have a death rate as high as 0.4%, or may be no worse than the normal flu. The Spanish Influenza of 1917, which was a horrible worldwide pandemic killing more than 50,000,000, had a death rate of about 2.5%.

H5N1 has a death rate of 50% or more.

Just sayin'.
posted by procrastination at 7:16 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


I just came in to say that this lab is attached to the school where I study and I know a couple people who've worked in the BSL-4 lab.
Apparently working in there is hell. All the boring experiments that you run day in and day out in your regular lab? Now you have to do them in a bulky spacesuit. Seems cool at first, but apparently the novelty wears off within the first hour.

I'm studying virology (among other biological things) and it just blows my mind that stuff like this is happening next door. mhjb, I'm totally with you that this is brilliant science. And for all you doomsday folk: I know this all seems a tad risky, but segment packaging and reassortment in the flu virus (which is what causes all these more dangerous strains of virus) is poorly understood, especially for something so important. This research is not only really cool from an "oh my god we're all gonna die" POV, it's also helping us to elucidate a really basic viral mechanism.
posted by snoogles at 7:40 AM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


(Can I hit the people who think this is a good idea upside the head with an unabridged hardcover edition of The Stand until they recant?)

Sure, if we can hit people who confuse horror fiction with reality with a bound volume of a virology journal. Hint: viral cultures are not some magic gas that cause everyone in line of sight to drop dead.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:43 AM on November 16, 2009


"But having access on my doorstep to one of the rare BSL-4 facilities in the world with an animal house is a big advantage."

That line sounded like a voiceover from the exposition segment at the beginning of a zombie/infected video game.

Also, I miss ReGenesis.
posted by Rhomboid at 7:46 AM on November 16, 2009


Isn't this kind of science where computers come in?

Do let us know when you figure that one out.
posted by molybdenumblue at 7:51 AM on November 16, 2009


I bet the cheese they will make with this will be insanely delicious.
posted by srboisvert at 8:21 AM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Isn't this kind of science where computers come in?

Computer simulations only work when we know how simulate the natural processes involved. We don't know enough about how viral reassortment works at this point, so these kinds of animal experiments are necessary to find out how two viral strains will interact.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:32 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


In a hot lab in the center of Lyon, space-suited virologists want to create a superflu as contagious as H1N1 and as lethal as H5N1.

If a guy named Randall Flagg is involved in any capacity, we need to stop them right now.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:39 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]


Since no one seems to be willing to RTFA. The point isn't to make a superflu first; the point is that the mechanism of reassortment in Influenza is poorly understood. H1N1 is pandemic in humans. There is a good chance you've been infected by various H1N1 strains at least a dozen times in your life. If H1N1/H5N1 hybridization is likely and easy, then we need to control the risks of H1N1 among people likely to come into contact with infected birds.

But thankfully they don't hybridize well right now. So, why not? If we are only a small mutation away from open reassortment, then the risks are a lot higher than if there is a larger, and more significant mechanism at work. If there is a larger mechanism, could it be exploited as an anti-viral therapy?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:42 AM on November 16, 2009 [4 favorites]


But having access on my doorstep to one of the rare BSL-4 facilities in the world with an animal house is a big advantage.

I hear the Tuesday petting zoos are awesome.
posted by fatbird at 8:55 AM on November 16, 2009


And for all you doomsday folk: I know this all seems a tad risky, but segment packaging and reassortment in the flu virus (which is what causes all these more dangerous strains of virus) is poorly understood, especially for something so important. This research is not only really cool from an "oh my god we're all gonna die" POV, it's also helping us to elucidate a really basic viral mechanism.

Oh, I'm glad it's being done, I just want some sort of incendiary device to make sure it works out okay.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:59 AM on November 16, 2009


28 Months Later...
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:42 AM on November 16, 2009


Dammit, KirkJobSluder, stop injecting reason into the hysteria. That kind of thing could go viral and we'd have to nuke the Internet to stop it.
posted by joaquim at 10:06 AM on November 16, 2009 [2 favorites]


Scientists are stupid assholes.
posted by joe defroster at 10:58 AM on November 16, 2009


L-U-N-E epelle "Nebraska."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:20 PM on November 16, 2009


If a guy named Randall Flagg is involved in any capacity, we need to stop them right now.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:39 AM on November 16


I'll meet you in Boulder, Empress.
posted by Bageena at 7:25 PM on November 16, 2009


So thinking this through. H1N1 is raging across the world. People are being vaccinated or gaining immunity after getting sick. Eventually we'll have herd immunity. Then in the near future H1N1 and H5N1 mutate into a hybrid.

Wouldn't the significant immunity to H1N1 give a fair bit of protection against a hybrid virus? I know it wouldn't be 100% but isn't there a very good chance it would significantly lower the mortality?
posted by Octoparrot at 7:48 PM on November 16, 2009


Thanks for the compliment, painquale.
posted by drdanger at 9:08 PM on November 16, 2009


Why does anyone care that the lab is working on H1N1? They already have ebola, but what, that isn't a big deal any more? Or is it just that nobody knows what it is, because it isn't in the headlines this week?
posted by jacalata at 9:44 PM on November 16, 2009


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