The US government has asked the scientific journals Nature and Science to censor data on a laboratory-made version of bird flu that could spread more easily to humans, fearing it could be used as a potential weapon.
The US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity asked the two journals to publish redacted versions of studies by two research groups that created forms of the H5N1 avian flu that could easily jump between ferrets — typically considered a sign the virus could spread quickly among humans.
The journals are objecting to the request, saying it would restrict access to information that might advance the cause of public health.
The request was a first for the expert panel, formed after a series of anthrax attacks on US targets in 2001.
It advises the Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies about "dual use" research that could serve public health but also be a potential bioterror threat.
The bird flu virus is extremely deadly in people who are directly exposed to infected birds but so far it has not mutated into a form that can pass easily from person to person.
The National Institutes of Health funded the two research labs’ work to see how the virus could become more transmissible in humans, with the aim of getting early insight to contain threats to public health.