The World Health Organisation is investigating claims made by an Australian virus researcher that swine flu may have been created by human error.

Former Australian National University scientist Professor Adrian Gibbs said in an interview with Bloomberg Television that he intends to publish a report suggesting the new strain may have accidentally evolved in eggs scientists use to grow viruses and drugmakers use to make vaccines.

Gibbs, who collaborated on research that led to the development of Roche‘s Tamiflu drug, said he came to the conclusion while analysing the virus’s genetic blueprint.

In addition, Gibbs said his research found the rate of genetic mutation in the new virus was about three times faster than viruses found in pigs, suggesting it evolved outside of swine.

“One of the simplest explanations is that it’s a laboratory escape,” said Gibbs.

WHO assistant director-general of health security and environment, Keiji Fukuda said that a ‘sober’ assessment of the claim was needed.

“We have asked a lot of people to look at this,” Fukuda said. “My guess is that the picture should be a lot clearer over the next few days.”

According to Fukuda, the WHO’s collaborative influenza research centres, which include the CDC, and sites in Memphis, Melbourne, London and Tokyo, were asked by the international health agency to review the study.

The request was extended to scientists at the Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome, the World Organisation for Animal Health in Paris and the WHO’s influenza network, he said.