It is thought to have killed 50 million people, and yet scientists have brought it back to life. In this issue of Nature, scientists publish an analysis of the full genome sequence of the 1918 human influenza virus. And in this week's Science, researchers describe how they used that sequence to recreate the virus and study its effects in mice.
Some scientists have already hailed the work as giving unprecedented insight into the virus. Working out how it arose and why it was so deadly could help experts to spot the next pandemic strain and to design appropriate drugs and vaccines in time, they say.
But others have raised concerns that the dangers of resurrecting the virus are just too great. One biosecurity expert told Nature that the risk that the recreated strain might escape is so high, it is almost a certainty. And the publication of the full genome sequence gives any rogue nation or bioterrorist group all the information they need to make their own version of the virus.
Jeffery Taubenberger of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Rockville, Maryland, is the lead author of the sequencing study. He says the work was necessary and the risks were low. The paper on page 889 gives details of the final three genes; the sequences of the rest have already been published.