To ‘oops’ or not to ‘oops’ – that is the question! To concoct nefarious plots in dark basement labs and smoke-filled back rooms, or accept that accidents do happen and arm ourselves with some knowledge of the processes. And to hear what’s actually being said by the ‘officials’ who so love to hoard whole classes of information We the People simply don’t need to know. Usually, if anyone’s keeping track, it’s more about ‘oopses’ that make ’em look careless than about actual nefarious plots or deeds.
The CT that got me banned at the Orange Rind made a specific charge on this question based on the announcement in late April of a flu outbreak in Mexico City, official releases specific to the nature of that virus, the actual technology used by researchers in the US and elsewhere in the world toward development of influenza vaccines, and the possibilities for an ‘oops’ (or worse) to occur at any of those facilities. All set against the MI-2 plot line harkening back to ancient Greek mythology, Bellerophon vs. Chimera.
I mentioned in that diary that genetic engineering is routinely used to craft varieties of influenza with enough mixed genetic specificities to allow a vaccine to be effective against more than one likely mutation of whatever strain is going around this year. That’s the truth. Though it turns out, according to the ‘experts’ who quickly weighed in to squash any speculations about an ‘oops’, that influenza viruses like to exchange whole genes and elements from entirely different strains in infected animals or in their water troughs at will and so promiscuously that it’s a complete wonder that we humans can even come up with actual strain varieties or vector titles at all!
Now, that’s a little hard for anyone who is familiar with genetics to believe. Not just because we ARE able to identify specific strains and vectors, but also because whole-gene and entire element transfer (what makes a Chimera) is NOT the kind of mutational activity viruses generate when replicating in infected animal cells. In order for a Swine flu to incorporate whole elements of an Avian flu during reproduction, the animal’s cell would have to be infected with both viruses and replicating them at the same time with the same machinery (once the viruses are replicated, the cell bursts to release them and cannot make any more or different viruses).* Non-reproducing viruses loose in a water trough do not exchange genetic elements in offspring, as they are not producing any offspring. Water has no cells and no cellular machinery to construct proteins or nucleic acids. These are not bacteria (for whom HGT is quite common). They’re viruses.
* [caveat] For the current flu, swine in filthy CAFO operations could have been infected with Swine, Human and Avian influenzas at the same time. Though the suspect corporation (Smithfield) has records demonstrating that ALL its hogs were/are vaccinated for Swine Flu – part of their ordinary business practice and animal tracking regulations for all NAFTA signatories.
When a virus does infect an animal’s cell and take over that cell’s reproductive machinery to produce millions of offspring, the kind of mutations that come in that generation aren’t whole-gene horizontal exchanges with entirely different strains or species. It’s single-nucleotide polymorphisms – SNPs – or ‘flipped’ or ‘jumped’ sub-genetic elements that may (or may not) alter an amino acid along a macromolecular protein sequence. This sort of aa substitution can affect the coded protein’s ability to bond with a membrane protein in a given animal, it may allow it to bond with a new species’ membrane, etc., but it doesn’t incorporate whole genes plus command elements from entirely different viruses unless those viruses are using the same machinery at the same time (as above).
I also mentioned an oops at a UT-Austin lab in 2006 that nearly released a Chimera to the public. That sure enough happened, and it’s not the first or last time an ‘oops’ has occurred. I cited Monsanto as an exemplar of bad corporate gene patenting (nefarious plots and deeds for sure) to highlight what’s wrong with CDC/WHO granting of patents on particular genetic elements of particular influenza strains. That is also true. And finally, I made the fatal observation that CDC had that very morning announced that this new flu was a Chimera – a totally unique strain of mixed human, swine and bird flu DNA no one had ever encountered before. Just hours later they came up with the HGT story because too many people surmised the same thing I did.*
* [caveat] Some were less inclined to consider the ‘oops’ scenario, going instead for the full MI-2 plot line:
It doesn’t actually matter at this point whether this Chimera was an ‘oops’, a deliberate release, or a random rarity of unlikely origin. What we need now is Bellerophon, and that’s going to be engineered. My interest in the subject of this flu that is now considered officially “Pandemic” by WHO and is still spreading and still killing the young and otherwise healthy among us, has not waned. This is something that may well come back to bite us hard this fall with or without an effective vaccine or treatment. So here’s the latest on vaccines being created…
On April 29 vaccine researchers at St. Louis University announced that they’d accomplished the first step in developing a universal vaccine against pandemic influenza. To accomplish this the researchers used proteins (engineered a ‘bug’ that produced said proteins from genetic sequences coding for them) from both A and B influenza strains. The vaccine introduces those proteins so the body can engineer antibodies specific to them. More testing is needed, they say, before the vaccine is ready for prime time.
On May 1 Juergen A. Richt, a pathobiologist at Kansas State University’s college of veterinary medicine released findings that the current lineage of H1N1 Swine Flu is a descendant of the 1918 strain that killed more than 20 million people worldwide. For the study Richt and colleagues from Canada, USDA and Mount Sinai engineered their ‘bug’ in a biosafety-level-4 lab (like the one at UT-Austin) at the National Centre for Foreign Animal Disease in Canada using elements from both the 1918 virus and a 1930 descendent of that virus.
On May 22 researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Vaccine Research announced that they’d evoked a robust immune response with a vaccine made of virus-like particles [VLPs], which are just the protein coats of actual viruses without any genes inside. This approach, which like other approaches involves genetic manipulation to produce the “hollow” virus shells, may work better than attenuated virus vaccines. The new vaccine for Human Papilloma Virus is a VLP.
And finally, on June 4 Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News reported that scientists around the world are accelerating efforts to develop an effective vaccine against the current Chimera strain. This is ‘news’ in the GE/biotech community because genetic manipulation is standard operating procedure in the development of influenza vaccines, of any type – live, attenuated, killed and dissociated or VLP. Step #1 is to engineer your Chimera.
No matter how the Chimera came to be, Bellerophon is engineered very much on purpose. I personally like the idea of the VLP vaccine, as it ONLY has coat proteins and it excites a more robust immune response to those than to dissociated coat proteins. The robust response is to the form of the viral shell. Even better, if these beasties get out in an ‘oops’ it won’t kill anybody – it’ll just immunize ’em. Let’s all hope one of these is available come September.