With a genetic profile of these likely mutations, efforts to monitor for the virus in the wild could be boosted. Such a profile could also help governments and vaccine manufactures get a head start developing a preventive shot before a pandemic has a chance to gain speed.
As Fauci pointed out in the press briefing, this sort of research should be closely watched and, indeed, debated. "The risk-benefit calculation is not always obvious," he said. But despite the risks—that bioterrorist groups could try to replicate the strain or that it could accidentally escape the laboratory—he sees the research as necessary so that we may better understand how the virus might evolve to infect humans. The ferret research was conducted at a biosafety level 3 (one step down from the facilities where researchers study Ebola and smallpox).
After controversy over these papers erupted late last year, a voluntary, ongoing moratorium went into effect on all the experiments that increased the transmissibility and/or pathogenesis of H5N1, Fauci noted, adding: "I think the benefit that will come out of the Fouchier paper in stimulating thoughts and ways to better understand transmissibility and adaptability and pathogenesis, in my mind, far outweigh the risk of nefarious use of this information."