A University of Wisconsin-Madison laboratory is set to resume experiments that could build the foundation of an early warning system for flu pandemics.

The research is based on altering a deadly type of the influenza virus in a way that could make it more dangerous, though, and critics say its approval lacked transparency and creates unnecessary risks.

Yoshihiro Kawaoka is a virologist and professor at the UW School of Veterinary Medicine and the University of Tokyo who has figured prominently in Wisconsin’s long-term central role in flu research. Kawaoka’s work has been the focus of fierce debate among epidemiologists ever since he announced in 2011 that his lab had successfully altered the H5N1 subtype of the influenza A virus to be transmittable through the air among ferrets. These small mammals are a common laboratory stand-in for studying human flu transmission.

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