Ray Kurzweil calls for 1918 flu genome to be ‘un-published’

October 9, 2005 | Source: KurzweilAI

“The decision by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to publish the full genome of the 1918 influenza virus on the Internet in the GenBank database is extremely dangerous and immediate steps should be taken to remove this data,” says inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil.

The cause of one of history’s most deadly epidemics was reconstructed and found to be a bird flu that jumped directly to humans, two teams of federal and university scientists announced in the October 7, 2005 issue of Science Magazine, as the New York Times reported on Thursday,.

Besides the threat of accidental release of the reconstructed virus from laboratories, “the other potential threat comes from the availability of the full genome sequence, which has been put on the GenBank database,” a condition of the publication of the paper in Science, said Nature in an editorial.

In addition, Science staff writer Jocelyn Kaiser revealed that “Both the authors and Science’s editors acknowledge concerns that terrorists could, in theory, use the information to reconstruct the 1918 flu virus.”

“I am calling for this genome to be ‘un-published,’” Kurzweil proposes. “I realize that this is like trying to gather the horses back into the barn, but that is exactly what we should try to do. Yes, there have been valuable insights that have been gained from recreating this virus, but those insights can be published without disclosing the actual DNA sequence.

“The precise genome could potentially be shared with scientists with a need to know and who have been cleared by a security investigation and have signed an agreement not to disclose the information, with criminal penalties for such disclosure. In addition, I recommend that the Congress initiate legislation to prohibit publication of all such sensitive data on virulent genomes (the exact extent to be defined) on all U.S. government publicly available Internet sites.

“No responsible scientist would advocate publishing precise designs for an atomic bomb, and this information is even more dangerous. As Jonathan Tucker, a policy analyst at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Washington DC, pointed out in Nature, ‘Anyone can order DNA to be made to a certain sequence.’

“We should take immediate steps to remove this information from the web and block any further publication of the actual genetic sequence to prevent its access by would-be bioterrorists,” Kurzweil advises.


Characterization of the Reconstructed 1918 Spanish Influenza Pandemic Virus, Science, Vol 310, Issue 5745, 77-80, 7 October 2005,

Resurrected Influenza Virus Yields Secrets of Deadly 1918 Pandemic, Science, Vol 310, Issue 5745, 28-29, 7 October 2005,

1918 Flu and Responsible Science, Science, Vol 310, Issue 5745, 17, 7 October 2005 , Nature, Volume 437 Number 794,

Supplementary information to “Large-scale sequencing of human influenza reveals the dynamic nature of viral genome evolution,” Nature, Volume 437 Number 794, online

Experts Unlock Clues to Spread of 1918 Flu Virus, New York Times, October 6, 2005,