Having clarified the obvious – that zero risk does not exist and that humans make mistakes, let us analyze two relevant questions about the Biosecurity incident in Atlanta.
The first is that the errors can not be eradicated, but must be minimized, and it seems that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have done in this case. A high-security laboratory in Atlanta sent another of the Ministry of Agriculture is an example of a harmless virus avian influenza (H9N2) contaminated with another (H5N1) that has killed 386 Asians in the last ten years; worse, the technicians who caused the contamination discovered the error on May 23, and took a month and a half to inform the direction of the CDC, which in turn has delayed five days presentation to the public; another scientist used a dangerous strain of Anthrax, unauthorized used for quenching and showed his ignorance of relevant studies for this kind of manipulation method. They are definitely human error, but the kind that can be minimized. The CDC should do now.
The second issue is to adopt radical precautions, such as preventive prohibition of risky research, would be an irrational attitude, and surely a blunder. CDC scientists and their laboratories partners within and outside the United States are manipulating the avian H5N1 virus, lethal in very rare cases that infects people, to confer a high transmissibility in mammals like us. The prospect seems horrifying. But researchers have powerful reasons to continue these experiments: the main one is that nature is doing the same experiments all the time, and in the twentieth century did it three times, beginning with the 1918 Spanish flu, which killed more people than the Great War that ended that year. The only way to anticipate the next pandemic is going to know how to perpetrate nature. Paradoxically, banning risky research is riskier to stick with them.
After years of concern about the current genetic possibilities open for bioterrorism, the biggest risk to date remains human error. Friendly Fire.