If something fails, the result may be catastrophic.
This is a warning from a group of US scientists who warn that the government of this country finances "dangerous experiments" with public funds that could trigger pandemic
Indeed, the risk associated with these investigations has led to this suspend four years ago, but now the authorities have returned to develop freely.
These are controversial laboratory studies that manipulate viruses Deadly bird flu.
According to critics, there is a danger that these attempts might open the door for these viruses very contagious – some of them have not been transmitted to humans, they can infect thousands of people.
"In fact, there is a raison d'être of these trials to make the virus contagious peoplesays Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at the Public Health School at Harvard University and one of the critics of these studies, says BBC World.
They have small value a scientific but unusually high risk, "says Lipsitch." I really do not know why they do it. "
What are these investigations, what their goal is and why they are controversial?
Get to know the virus
One of the projects targeted is the University of Wisconsin, funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), the US Public Health Agency.
Attempts include, for example, they infect ferrets the bird flu virus H5N1 and check that the virus is transmitted from one animal to another.
This virus is very lethal to humans, but it has not yet been reported that it could be downloaded person
The goal, according to researchers, is to learn more about how reproduces viruses and thus provide ways to stop its spread in mammals.
It's an idea prepare people for this type of virus.
The only way stop The pandemic is that we have more scientific knowledge about how these viruses are transmitted, "says BBC Mundo Rebecca Moritz, a biosecurity expert who oversees such experiments at the University of Wisconsin.
"The goal is not to create deliberately a virus that can be transmitted. "
But that's not the biggest fear Lipsitch.
In his opinion, it is unlikely that anyone would want to use the virus as weapons, or that an explosion or an error occurs in the laboratory in the ventilation system that causes the release of the virus.
"It's more likely," she says, "that someone does it mistakes and exposed to these viruses, they pass it on to another person and start an outbreak. "
"In most cases, when someone was exposed to dangerous pathogens, he was because he thought he was working with him material"
Lipsitch admits that the risk is that this attempt will be triggered accident The pandemic is low, "but that does not mean it is safe."
Moritz believes that the project is safe and poses a risk "incredibly low" and thanks to this, he received funds from the NIH.
Why is that so?
There are many ways to experiment with viruses, but according to Lipsitch, in this case less convenient.
"If you want to prepare for a pandemic, you can do many things, everything safe, except this kind of work, "she says.
For him, although viral experiments always have a risk, there are other methods that make more sense.
For example, one option would be to tackle human influenza and introduce it changes to be more like bird flu and then try to correct these changes.
This method is expensive and complex, so Lipsitch would be better off Compare avian influenza and human influenza, analyze their properties and examine their differences.
"It would give advice on what people are doing." adjust"
Moritz does not agree yet.
"These methodologies can not bring you far," he says. "Influenza viruses are extremely diverse, so it's not necessary that they can substitute influenza virus with another influenza virus. "
Those who oppose these investigations also claim that the process with which it is governed was not clear permission.
In the BBC World, we sent questions to NIH about the trials and their approval process, but we did not receive an immediate response.
US Department of Health and Social Affairs. (HHS), reported by the NIH, carried out a review of a group of experts who found it safe to give the green light to investigations.
However, the HHS spokesman quoted the magazines Science recalls that the Commission's conclusions can not be published because they contain confidential information from a laboratory that will develop experiments, which could benefit its competitors.
For Lipsitch, this decision is a privilege business secrets some scientists, about the right of citizens to know initiatives that could influence them.
Richard Ebrigh, a microbiologist at Rutgers University Science, says that this is a lack of openness "disturbing and unbearable".
Moritz advocates the project and states that the review process has been carried out transparent it included the concept of international experts and public presentations.
Is it worth the risk?
According to reports Scienceworking in this investigation must comply with certain rules which include: warning immediately inform the authorities if they find that the H5N1 strain is very dangerous and can be transmitted through ferrets by air; or if they develop an antiviral-resistant, pollutant.
"I think someone exaggerates the value of this experiment, or he decided to do it regardless of risk"Says Lipsitch.
On the other hand, the project continues to make progress, although, according to Moritz, there is still no fixed date in which they should first show. results
Meanwhile, Lipsitch insists that this is a risk it's not worth it Take it
"Every attempt to endanger human life must be one of the most important attempts of the century, this must be something very special"says," and nobody explained what is special in this experiment ".