Recently, Winnipeg scientists have resurrected the H1N1 influenza virus of 1918 which killed 50 million people with a death rate of 2%. The procedure by which the virus was resurrected was impressive and hopefully will lead to a defence against H5N1 or other future influenzas. Nothing against the Winnipeg scientists nor their research, but it is reminiscent of a very dangerous scenario which must be addressed:
In the brilliant Terry Gilliam film '12 Monkeys' (torrent), a lab scientist working silently develops a virus to wipe out 95% of mankind while making the surface of the Earth uninhabitable. There is a sizable population of humanity who in light of the continued and seemingly inevitable destruction of Earth's biodiversity caused by one single species, would support a mechanism to eliminate that species and the threat by whatever means necessary. The only practical means of carrying this out would be the development of an airborne, highly infectious and deadly virus with a long incubation period. While your average misanthrope is not determined enough to wipe out mankind, a motivated biologist who not so abnormally values non-human life on the same scale as human life could very easily rationalise and carry out the decision to develop the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. I have met several people who in principle are not opposed to such an idea leading me to completely reconsider the likelihood of this event.
Biological science should not be stopped for fear of this scenario. While oversight should be strengthened especially where virus work is concerned, security and oversight in the field should not interfere with scientific progress.
Life on this planet will go on with or without humanity. Humanity surely has many thousands more species to eliminate forever, but the real question is whether humanity itself will survive. Ultimately, humanity's probability of survival is directly proportional to its degree of conservation and stewardship of other life on the planet. Given our current direction, I am betting on 12 Monkeys, this time without the time travel.