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One difference is that while Kawaoka basically added a bird flu portion to an ordinary human flu virus, Fouchier’s team made a bird flu virus more transmissible through mutating it. Kawaoka’s approach appeared to produce less risk, Paul Keim, acting chair of the federal biosecurity advisory panel, told a Senate committee recently.

Toner said this week the hybrid Kawaoka’s lab made would not be expected to be more dangerous than ordinary human flu, while the altered bird flu virus from the Dutch lab could be more lethal. So he said he’s more concerned with the Dutch paper than Kawaoka‘s. But he said he would not second-guess the government’s decision to support publishing the Dutch paper too.

Fouchier has said his altered virus, while easily spread between ferrets, did not kill them.

Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers University, said he’s less concerned about publication of the papers than the fact that the federal government funded the research in the first place. “This is work that creates new biological threats,” he said. “These viruses are dangerous and the ones that will come later (with further research) will be more dangerous.”

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Medical writer Lauran Neergaard in Washington contributed to this report.

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Malcolm Ritter can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/malcolmritter

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Online:

Journal Nature: http://www.nature.com