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WHO to Decide Whether to Allow Research on Smallpox

The World Health Organization is considering allowing scientists to genetically modify the smallpox virus to make it easier to study.

A panel of international scientists made the recommendation to the U.N. agency last week. If approved, scientists would insert a fluorescent gene that would act as a marker to test the viability of anti-smallpox drugs. Supporters of the experiments say it will speed up the screening of drugs to fight the deadly virus.

The WHO declared smallpox eradicated in 1980 after it launched an aggressive global vaccination campaign. The remaining samples of the virus have been stored in the United States and Russia. The WHO had considered destroying the samples, but concerns about bioterrorism increased calls to develop better drugs.

Some information for this story provided by AP and Reuters.