When the H5N1 flu virus threatened the public with a pandemic, Professor Michael Imperiale helped the U.S. government decide how best to keep the contagion contained in research labs.



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View the full Michael Imperiale episode transcript.

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Highlights from This Episode


  • 2:37 – “If a lot of laboratories make viruses more pathogenic, and if those viruses were to accidentally escape the lab, then that can lead to a very dangerous pandemic.”
  • 5:03 – “So the question was: Can this virus start to spread from human to human? If it did, one can imagine that can be a pretty dangerous pandemic.”
  • 6:09 – “The concern here was: Is this a biosecurity risk? Might someone misuse this information?
  • 10:22 – “We also have to make sure that the individuals who are doing the work are properly trained, because that may be the weakest link—human error.”
  • 12:49 – “The public is paying for this research, and the public is the beneficiary of the research, so I agree with that. We have an obligation to the public to ensure that we are doing what’s right as well as what’s best.”



Scientist Bios

Professor Michael Imperiale studies human pathogens in the U-M Medical School’s Department of Microbiology & Immunology, where he also serves as associate chair. Imperiale gained important experience for his current role as the vice president of research for policy and compliance in U-M’s Office of Research by offering his expertise on the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity, which involved making suggestions for how to contain dangerous experiments securely in research labs.

Learn more about Michael Imperiale’s research and the “dual-use dilemma.”

How to Science host Monica Dus is a professor in LSA’s Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology (MCDB) who studies how the brain responds to the presence and absence of sugar. She wants to figure out how neurons sense and respond to the nutrients eaten as food. Her research relates to feeding behavior, energy balance, physiology, and obesity. She loves her three dogs, whose names are Cupcake, Sprinkles, and Brioche.

Learn more about Monica Dus’s research.




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Podcast produced by Elizabeth Wason, Monica Dus, and Matthew J. Adams
Illustrations by Julia Lubas
Photos by Elizabeth DeCamp
Podcast theme music by Podington Bear