Did the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 result from high-risk research gone wrong? Regardless of the answer, the risk of future pandemics originating from research with dangerous pathogens is real.
The focal point of this lab-leak discussion is the Wuhan Institute of Virology, nestled in the hilly outskirts of Wuhan. It is just one of 59 maximum containment labs in operation, under construction or planned around the world.
Known as biosafety level 4 (BSL4) labs, these are designed and built so that researchers can safely work with the most dangerous pathogens on the planet – ones that can cause serious disease and for which no treatment or vaccines exist. Researchers are required to wear full-body pressurised suits with independent oxygen.
Spread over 23 countries, the largest concentration of BSL4 labs is in Europe, with 25 labs. North America and Asia have roughly equal numbers, with 14 and 13 respectively. Australia has four and Africa three.