Why Is Gain-of-Function Research So Controversial?
Gain-of-function research is rarely popular, but the pandemic has brought it to the forefront, and some have used it to point to the Wuhan Institute of Virology as a possible source of COVID-19.
Supporters of the Wuhan facility as the most likely source of the pandemic refer to the lab’s clearance to conduct gain-of-function research and the fact that it is located in the same city as the first case of COVID-19. The study includes modifying a pathogen to give it a new feature. Frequently, a virus’s new feature is that it is more transmissible or dangerous to people.
It’s a contentious research method due to the risk of a lab leak, which might allow a modified pathogen to infect local or worldwide populations. Not many labs are qualified to undertake gain-of-function research, and those that are must meet a specific degree of biosafety, which is designed to put in place layers of controls to help avoid leakage, though mistakes do happen.
The possibility of an accident with a hazardous disease sparked a debate over whether the hazards of gain-of-function research exceed the benefits.
After researchers claimed that they had produced a deadly avian flu virus, H5N1, more contagious in ferrets, the Obama administration issued an embargo on supporting gain-of-function research in 2014. The animals were used as a model for how the virus could travel through humans, raising fears that it could be unleashed into the wild.
The government set in place a new framework for academics who want to conduct and receive financing for gain-of-function research once the moratorium was removed in 2017.
Some have blamed the COVID-19 pandemic on gain-of-function research, however Dr. Shi Zhengli, a Chinese virologist known as the “Bat Woman” for her work on bat coronaviruses, denied her lab done anything wrong.
In June, she told the New York Times that she has “nothing to be afraid of” because she is “confident that I did nothing illegal.” She denied that the lab was doing contentious gain-of-function tests, but because China is a closed country, many people take her words with a grain of salt. In May, legislators in China banned funding for certain research.
. This is a condensed version of the information.