I was just looking through some news articles today and came across this one talking about the White House's decision to stop funding research that involves "gain-of-function" viruses, specifically the influenza, SARS, and MERS viruses.
For reference, gain-of-function viruses are those that feature increased pathogenicity or transmissibility; these viruses are particularly useful for experimentation regarding disease pathogenesis and understanding the specific pathways of disease. Specifically, studies that propose protocols that would increase viral pathogenicity will not be funded. Naturally found viral experiments involving influenza, MERS, and SARS are not subject to these constraints.
This isn't the first time that research related to gain-of-function viruses has been under fire; in 2011, the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity asked Nature and Science to not public studies about mutated strains of the bird flu virus because this information could be used inappropriately for bioterrorism.
I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts about whether this is an appropriate step to take at this point! How can those researchers who are working hard to understand the effects of increased viral pathogenicity take precautions to avoid mistakes and severe consequences? Where is the line between conducting important research and developing potentially dangerous pathogens, and how can this be effectively be regulated by the US government and other research and funding entities? Do scientists have the power to create mutant viruses with such harmful negative impact in order to "predict" future strains and how to combat them? There are a ton of associated ethical questions, and I'm looking forward to our discussion in class about it!
You can see the news brief here from the White House: