SCIENTISTS PLAN to recreate the influenza virus that killed more than 20 million people in 1918 in a dramatic experiment to bring back life from the dead.
Fragments of genetic material extracted from the bodies of victims of the global epidemic will be used to "resurrect" living viruses for use in research.
The scientists emphasise that it would be done in a laboratory with the highest containment classification because of the potential danger to the public.
They hope that by re-building the virus from scratch, and allowing it to infect human cells cultured in the laboratory, they will understand what made the agent so lethal and so learn how to prevent future flu epidemics from becoming so deadly. Between 20 million and 40 million people worldwide died in the outbreak of "Spanish flu", which attacked both the young and the old and became the largest single epidemic of infectious disease in recorded history.
In recent years scientists have searched tissue bank archives and permafrost burial grounds for victims whose tissues may harbour traces of the virus.
However, although they have managed to extract fragments of genetic material, they have failed to extract whole viruses, which has led them to the idea of using the fragments to rebuild an entire genetic sequence - or genome - of the 1918 strain.
Britain is likely to become the designated site for making the virus because of its internationally recognised expertise in influenza virology and because of the involvement of British scientists in extracting the flu genes from the frozen corpses.
The National Institute for Medical Research in Mill Hill, north London, where scientists first isolated the influenza virus more than 60 years ago, is likely to become the authorised centre for making the 1918 strain.
The institute is one of only four civilian research centres in the country with a high-security laboratory - classed as category 4 containment - which is a legal prerequisite for handling the most contagious diseases. …