Written by Joshua Alan Parry
Pandemics have always captured our imagination and rightfully so. From the Spanish Flu to Small Pox, plagues have ravaged our populations on a consistent basis since we came into existence. Viruses are one of the last great natural predators of man.
And now they are getting a helping hand.
In Virus Thirteen, humanity is once again set upon by worldwide pandemic, but this time the blame lies with a group of bioterrorists who have released a genetically altered super-flu more virulent than anything mankind has seen before.
I wish I could say the above scenario was far-fetched science fiction. In 2012, a moratorium was placed on controversial experiments using the H5N1 bird flu virus after virologists discovered gene mutations that could transform the normally harmless virus into one capable of infecting ferrets, a laboratory model for humans. When the researchers announced their results, it sparked a great controversy. Many people questioned the wisdom of releasing a recipe for a genetically altered flu virus that could potentially infect humans.
As the debate intensified, scientists across the globe reluctantly agreed to a temporary halt to their research. Both sides had valid arguments. For the cautious, security was certainly an issue. This information in the wrong hands could prove extremely dangerous. The pro-research camp argued that further studies are needed to better understand what mutations made the virus able to affect mammals, which might enable scientists to develop cures or vaccines. Their reasoning was, research or not, these mutations will happen in the wild, so we might as well do them under the controlled environment of high-security labs.
Now it is 2013. The moratorium on H5N1 research has been lifted and the controversial research has been published in scientific journals. Whether this is wise or not, time will tell. I don’t think obstructing research is the right answer, but I do believe the temporary moratorium was a positive sign of humanity’s prognosis. We are taking the time to contemplate the threats that research may pose and we are asking the difficult questions about how to keep information out of dangerous hands. As we proceed with caution into the future, the reality is we cannot prevent or even predict all of the threats that we will face. These are the hazards of mankind’s hubris. We must not forget that nature plays by her own set of rules. So let 2013 be the year of responsible, illuminating research, and not the year of the virus.
From the Tor/Forge April newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.
More from the March Tor/Forge newsletter:
- How I Learned to Stop Grumbling and Love Vampires by Carrie Vaughn
- Mercury, Leeches, and Cutting Holes in People’s Heads by David Walton
- The Rithmatists Sweepstakes