French Scientists Working to Create Swine-Bird Superflu

Looking toward the worst case scenario for the swine flu pandemic, virologists in Lyon are attempting to create a virus as contagious as swine flu and as deadly as avian flu. Is it time to call in Bruce Willis yet?

Researchers at the Jean Mérieux/INSERM facility in Lyon, France, are working with the highly contagious H1N1 virus and its more lethal relation H5N1, better known as the avian flu. The scientists are attempting to determine if H1N1 could reassort with H5N1, blending their genetic material, and whether a resulting virus could have the worst traits of the original viruses.

There's a method behind creating this superflu. The facility has been working to anticipate the path current and future pandemics might take so that precautions and treatments can be developed. The team is attempting to determine when reassortment between the two viruses would produce a viable product, and which reassortments — if any — are likely to occur.

Jean Mérieux/INSERM is a biosecurity level four facility, and the researchers must wear spacesuit-like hazmat attire when in the lab, but the researchers must watch out for scratches and bites from the mice and ferrets used to test the virulence and transmissibility of the viruses.

Swine flu: One killer virus, three key questions [Nature via Metafilter]