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Gain-of-function (GOF) research involves experimentation that aims or is expected to (and/or, perhaps, actually does) increase the transmissibility and/or virulence of pathogens.
Such research, when conducted by responsible scientists, usually aims to improve understanding of disease causing agents, their interaction with human hosts, and/or their potential to cause pandemics.
The ultimate objective of such research is to better inform public health and preparedness efforts and/or development of medical countermeasures.
Despite these important potential benefits, GOF research (GOFR) can pose risks regarding biosecurity and biosafety. GOFR is a subset of “dual-use research”—i.e., research that can be used for both beneficial and malevolent purposes.
Whereas the dual-use life science research debate has largely focused on biosecurity dangers associated with potential malevolent use of research, the GOFR debate has more explicitly focused on risks involving both biosecurity and biosafety—the point being that creation of especially dangerous pathogens might pose highly significant biosafety risks that are independent of, and perhaps more feasible to measure/assess than, risks associated with malevolent use.
Following controversy surrounding research, published in 2012, that led to the creation of highly pathogenic H5N1 (avian) influenza virus strains that were airborne transmissible between ferrets—and more recent reports of biosafety mishaps involving anthrax, smallpox, and H5N1 in government laboratories—in 2014 the administration of US President Barack Obama called for a “pause” on funding (and relevant research with existing US Government funding) of GOF experiments involving influenza, SARS, and MERS viruses in particular.
This pause applies specifically to experiments that “may be reasonably anticipated to confer attributes … such that the virus would have enhanced pathogenicity and/or transmissibility in mammals via the respiratory route” (White House 2014).
But just last year, the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the organization led by Dr. Fauci, funded scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and other institutions for work on gain-of-function research on bat coronaviruses.
In a statement today, NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, PhD, said "We have a responsibility to ensure that research with infectious agents is conducted responsibly, and that we consider the potential biosafety and biosecurity risks associated with such research." He added that he is confident that the review process spelled out in the new framework "will help to facilitate the safe, secure, and responsible conduct of this type of research in a manner that maximizes the benefits to public health.
BSL-4 labs are built to contain infectious agents such as the Ebola, Nipah and Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever viruses, all of which are highly transmissible and frequently fatal diseases.
Although China intends to build five to seven high-containment laboratories by 2025, as of now, only the Wuhan lab can currently contain pathogens of this nature, according to the 2019 CDC report.
The increased attention to gain-of-function research is a good thing. This kind of highly controversial research — banned under the Obama administration after safety incidents demonstrated that lab containment is rarely airtight — began again under the Trump administration, and many scientists and public health researchers think it’s a really bad idea. Our brush with the horrors of a pandemic might force us to reconsider the warnings those experts have been sounding for years.
As such in October 2014, due to public health concerns the US government banned all federal funding on efforts to weaponize three viruses—influenza, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
In the face of a moratorium in the US, Dr. Anthony Fauci–director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) and currently the leading doctor in the US Coronavirus Task Force–outsourced in 2015 the GOF research to China’s Wuhan lab and licensed the lab to continue receiving federal funding.
originally posted by: FyreByrd
a reply to: stonerwilliam
I don't agree, I think it's a systemic problem. He is certainly part of the problem but he's not an evil mastermind.