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Deadly mouse virus produced in gene engineering.

WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 Kyodo

An experiment using mice for gene engineering accidentally produced a deadly mouse virus, a team of Australian scientists has reported in a U.S. medical journal.

The team found breeds of laboratory mice normally resistant to the mousepox virus died when they were infected with the virus after it was modified to contain a particular gene affecting immunity.

The scientists at the Canberra-based Cooperative Research Center for the Biological Control of Pest Animals (CRC) published a report on the discovery in the February issue of the Journal of Virology.

The scientists made the discovery as part of work to develop a biological contraceptive that would halt mouse and rat plagues to prevent the damage they cause to the global food supply.

Mousepox virus does not infect humans or pose any threat to them but the scientists are concerned that if the technique were to be adopted by biowarfare researchers, it could be used to strengthen biological weapons based on viruses that do affect humans.

''In this case, we've found that certain changes to a mouse virus can render it more lethal and harder to immunize against,'' CRC Director Bob Seamark said.

''The best protection against any misuse of this technique was to issue a worldwide warning,'' he said.

The scientists were experimenting with the use of various viruses to deliver an antigen to the pest that causes an immune response to its own reproductive cells.

The goal is to suppress the plagues of mice and rats that destroy billions of dollars worth of the global grain harvest both in farmers' fields and in grain storage and contribute to the spread of human diseases.

They modified a mousepox virus to include the gene for a substance called interleukin-4, which affects the immune system. The aim was to boost the level of the animal's immune response to block reproduction.

The global biological weapons convention needs to be strengthened to take account of the discovery, said Annabelle Duncan, a former deputy head of a U.N. team that investigated the development of biowarfare agents in Iraq in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War.
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Publication:Japan Science Scan
Date:Jan 29, 2001
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