Bird flu
Health workers slaughter chickens at a wholesale poultry market in Hong Kong.

Experts have halted further research on the deadly H5N1 avian influenza virus for 60 days to discuss the risks involved in releasing their findings in detail.

The scientists issued a joint statement published in the research journals "Nature" and "Science" taking into consideration fears that bioterrorists could replicate the technology by means of which they created a mutant version of the virus.

A huge controversy has erupted after a group of Frankenstein scientists created an incredibly lethal, hyper-contagious bird flu virus so they can come up with a vaccine to prevent it. The airborne version of the strain may easily spread among humans.

The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity of the US government has urged both the journals to stop publishing details of the studies that "could enable replication of the experiments by those who would seek to do harm".

"We realise that organisations and governments around the world need time to find the best solutions for opportunities and challenges that stem from the work," the experts wrote.

"We recognise that we and the rest of the scientific community need to clearly explain the benefits of this important research and the measures taken to minimise its possible risks. We propose to do so in an international forum in which the scientific community comes together to discuss and debate these issues," they said.

The stoppage is meant to enable the international community of experts to debate the pros and cons of the research even as efforts are being made by the World Health Organisation and the US government to put in place a mechanism that can prevent the relevant details of the study falling into wrong hands. Experts also fear that the virus may escape from their laboratories to cause an incredibly huge global human pandemic.

"We hope that by having a calm and reasoned discussion of the facts, scientists and biosecurity experts can reach a better understanding and find ways to enable the research to go forward while minimising risks. Scientists need to have their voices heard in this debate," said Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

But some other experts are of the view that the timeframe is too short. "The 60 days will likely not be adequate in terms of getting a truly workable international policy and applying that. I just don't think that's realistic," said Michael Osterholm, who heads the University of Minnesota's Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy in Minneapolis.