Biotechnology and Ethics


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3. Enhanced Pathogens

On October 17, the White House suspended research that would enhance the pathogenicity of viruses such as influenza, SARS, and MERS (often referred to as gain-of-function (GOF) research). Gain-of-function research, in itself, is not harmful; in fact, it is used to provide vital insights into viruses and how to treat them.

But when it is used to increase mammalian transmissibility and virulence, the altered viruses pose serious security and biosafety risks:

  • Those fighting to resume research claim that GOF research on viruses is both safe and important to science, insisting that no other form of research would be as productive.
  • Those who argue against this type of research note that the biosafety risks far outweigh the benefits. They point to hard evidence of human fallibility and the history of laboratory accidents and warn that the release of such a virus into the general population would have devastating effects.