Experts contacted by ABCNews.com were split on whether the research should be published. While most virologists believe in noncensorship for the good of public health, some talked about the potential danger of releasing information on a virus that was so easily mutated.
"The idea that biosecurity consists in policing scientists or chimerical "bioterrorists" is dangerous nonsense," said Philip Alcabes, a professor in the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College. "Who knows what the motives of the self-professed biosecurity experts really are, but in practice, their ridiculous pronouncements promote vast expenditures of taxpayer monies that achieve little outside of propping up the very biosecurity industry from which the warnings come."
"Censorship offends me, particularly in science," said John Barry, author of "The Great Influenza." "Nonetheless, I think there should be review of something like this ... but not necessarily by the government. It should be done by people who respect scientific openness, and publishing should be the default position."
Others, including Nicole Baumgarth, a professor in the department of pathology, microbiology and immunology at the University of California at Davis, said NIH scientists were in an "excellent position" to review the science and make recommendations, and discussion of whether to publish such data was necessary.
"I do think [the research] might help us to identify which mutations in influenza might cause outbreaks," said Baumgarth. "This could be of importance as the NIH and other organizations supporting the screening and sequencing of influenza viruses from birds and other species, as a means to screen what might become the next pandemic."
At least one other laboratory in Japan has reportedly conducted similar research and found similar results. Because of this, Baumgarth said, "it is really important to report on the research progress made, but maybe withhold the details of the exact mutations. At least that would prevent copycat science.
"But let's face it," she said. "If two research labs have done this already, nobody is going to stop a third and fourth lab from doing the same. These are routine procedures done in many labs around the world."
Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt School of Medicine, said Fouchier's research is "illuminating" in helping to understand what aspects of the virus's genome can be changed to make it easily transmissible. Instead of worrying about biological warfare, Schaffner said the greater danger was the potential for the virus to escape from the university research laboratory, where it is reportedly being held under lock and key.
"A biowarfare threat of influenza is very low because the virus cannot be controlled once it is let out into the community," said Schaffner. "There are other biological warfare weapons that are much better at targeting specific populations. More importantly, people in that lab need to have a careful discussion on how to keep that virus in the lab secure. Viral escape is quite real. They should take extra care in handling it."