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Scientists have succeeded in creating an artificial polio virus

For the first time: they created life in the laboratory. Assessment: The technology will be used to produce vaccines; Concern: use of biological warfare

Artificial polio virus
Artificial polio virus

In a controversial technical achievement, scientists have, for the first time, succeeded in creating life in a laboratory. Meanwhile, it is only an artificial virus - the virus that causes polio, a disease that until recently left hundreds of thousands of people paralyzed and today has almost disappeared from the world.
However, according to some scientists, the research opens up new possibilities, including the creation of deadly viruses in the laboratory that can be used in biological warfare.

The researchers created the virus using data downloaded from databases available on the Internet and DNA sequences ordered from a private company that supplies equipment to laboratories. The artificial virus is almost exactly the same as the natural virus: it multiplies in the laboratory, and mice infected with it became paralyzed.

The new method "can contribute to medical research", says Hermona Sorek, professor of molecular biology from the Hebrew University. According to her, it may be possible to use it to create weakened viruses for the production of vaccines, or viruses that will be used for gene therapy. "But", she adds, "it is also very scary. If the technology exists, someone can also exploit it for negative purposes."

"It's always better to be prepared," one of the partners in the study, Dr. Eckerd Wimmer of the State University of New York, told CNN. According to him, "in an era when anthrax arrives in postal envelopes, it should be taken into account that there will be someone who will use the information to increase the availability of disease-causing viruses and to increase their lethality." However, he said he and his colleagues had no doubts about whether to publish the results and methods of their research. "By publishing the findings, you are alerting the authorities to what bioterrorists can do," he said.

Polio is considered a simple virus, due to its small genome. According to the researchers, other viruses, such as the deadly smallpox virus, have a much larger genome and their biology is more complex. However, Dr. Geronimo Cello, another partner in the study, says: "Most likely, sometime in the future it will be possible to create them as well."

According to Dr. Wimmer, "People have talked about this approach in the past, but no one took it seriously. Now people must take her seriously." Wimmer and his colleagues say that the success in creating the polio virus proves that the fact that the virus is almost no longer found in most parts of the world, does not mean that it will ever be possible to completely eradicate the disease. The plan of the World Health Organization, which this month announced the eradication of polio from Europe, is to stop giving vaccines after the disease has been eradicated from all regions of the world. But opponents of the plan say that in light of the new findings, the organization should reconsider its plans.

In the creation of the virus, the researchers combined laboratory methods that are now accepted in biology: they downloaded the genetic sequence of the virus from the Internet, fed it into a device that translates it and automatically produces chemical chains of genetic sequence, and then assembled them one by one until the complete sequence was created. The research will be published today in the scientific journal "Science".

The artificial virus is not exactly the same as the natural virus - it is less deadly than it. The scientists used 10,000 to XNUMX times greater amounts of it to kill the mice. Wimmer says this may have been due to mutations they introduced into the virus, to differentiate it from the natural virus.

According to Prof. Sorek, the essential point in the new research, "is the proof of principle, that life can be created based on written information. From here one can only imagine where it can be taken further."

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