In retrospect, the scaremongering might have been a bit over the top. But it's easy to forget how fear of a bird flu pandemic dominated the news in 2006 and 2007. Since then, the strand of the virus that can be transmitted to humans has by and large been contained, and sure enough it is no longer headline news. But now it's back, sort of. And this time, it might seem that we're asking for it.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that scientific research by a team from the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam, which has produced mutations of the H5N1 influenza virus, or bird flu, under laboratory conditions, could pose risks to public health if not handled responsibly.
The organisation's concerns are understandable. At the same time, banning research on the bird flu virus or closing down labs that carry out the experiments, as has been suggested, would be the wrong move.
Lab testing is the bedrock of scientific progress. And while mutating deadly genes may seem unnecessarily risky to outsiders, major breakthroughs in treating and eliminating diseases can only come from such extensive experiments and research.
As long as strict regulations are set for laboratories around the world, tests on viruses, even man-made ones, is not only unavoidable, but also necessary to prevent nature from doing us one better.