The risks of gain-of-function research on pandemic potential pathogens such as SARS and MERS outweigh the benefits. Greater oversight of biosafety, biosecurity, and biorisk management in laboratories must be done by an independent national agency that doesn’t perform or fund research.
March 3, 2023 | Source: SFS | by Laura H. Kahn
Like Icarus flying too close to the sun, some scientists working in laboratories have been pushing the fates by creating pathogens (i.e., microbes that make people sick) that are more dangerous than those occurring in nature. Other scientists and policy experts, myself included, have joined forces to call for improved oversight, and, in some cases, the banning of “gain-of-function” research on pandemic potential pathogens also called “enhanced potential pandemic pathogens research” (ePPP). Gain-of-function research involves giving microbes such as bacteria and viruses enhanced capabilities that they might not normally possess in nature. This research currently receives almost no national or international oversight. Not all gain-of-function research is dangerous—for example, turning harmless bacteria into insulin-making machines is beneficial and cost-effective for treating diabetes and most biomedical research has resulted in substantial improvements in medicine and public health.