The study of viruses is under renewed scrutiny, say more than 150 experts in a commentary whose authors call on policymakers to recognize the need for more rational discourse around the future of virology, ahead of a meeting of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity.
In the new commentary published in mSphere, mBio and the Journal of Virology, journals of the American Society for Microbiology, the virologists call for a more nuanced, evidence-based discussion around gain of function research and provide evidence to support the benefits of this type of research for human health.
These concerns are especially focused on enhanced potential pandemic pathogen (ePPP) research and dual use research of concern (DURC).
“To respond rapidly to emerging viral threats we must be able to apply modern biology tools to viruses which will ensure that we reduce the burden of future disease outbreaks,” said Felicia Goodrum, Ph.D., co-Editor-in-Chief of ASM’s Journal of Virology.
The current debate regarding the origin of SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is partly due to a theory that suggests it may have been caused by an accidental or intentional lab leak. However, evidence strongly suggests that the virus originated from zoonotic transmission, through the transfer of the virus from wild animals to humans, the virologists say.
Despite this, according to the commentary, a narrative against this type of research tool has developed, putting the field of virology at risk, despite its critical role in preparing humanity to fight threats posed by viruses.
“Research on dangerous pathogens does require oversight, but we must be careful to not overly restrict the ability of scientists to generate the knowledge needed to protect ourselves from these pathogens, said Michael Imperiale, PhD, a professor with the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Michigan Medical School and Editor-in-Chief of ASM’s journal mSphere.
As policymakers take a renewed look at policies surrounding gain of function research, the authors state, the abundance of existing oversight around virology research should be considered and a concerted effort to avoid redundant measures should be implemented.
Gain of function research and regulations around virus research is the subject of a meeting by the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity to be held on January 27, which has released draft findings and recommendations.
“It is critical that policy makers, virologists, and biosafety experts work together to ensure that research is conducted safely, with the common goal of reducing the burden of disease caused by viruses,” said Seema Lakdawala, PhD, an associate professor with the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Emory University.