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The federal government announced on Tuesday that it is lifting a three-year moratorium on funding controversial research that involves genetically altering viruses in ways that could make them more contagious, more deadly, or both — and that critics say risks triggering a catastrophic pandemic.

Called gain-of-function experiments, the studies aim to understand genetic changes that can make viruses such as bird flu, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) more transmissible from person to person. But if they escaped from the lab, perhaps through human error, the modified viruses could in theory spread quickly or be extremely virulent, increasing the toll of an outbreak.


The moratorium was imposed a few months after two mishaps at government labs, one handling anthrax and one handling avian flu, which together suggested that biosafety and biosecurity at even the most respected labs fell well short of what is needed to protect the public.

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  • Make no mistake, this is very scary stuff. My grandmother told tales of her experiences during the 1918 Flu epidemic. Imagine no infrastructure: no fuel (oil or gas); no clean water, no healthcare or access to meds like insulin or other for chronic disease, no food, etc., because those who provide this are all DEAD.
    What seems today, like an ongoing lack of responsibility among the populace, and poor training practices in most jobs (can’t train well AND work simultaneously), and hiring those less competent (cheap labor) the concern about accidents is more than just a red flag, it’s terrifying.

    This country, as are others, can be easily victimized by terrorist acts. Bioterrorism can occur purposly or accidentally at any time, releasing these lethal organisms into the environment.

    I disagree with research that aims to genetically alter microorganisms into lethal killers. Instead, research anecdotes, and methods to ensure public safety. Just because we can resurrect the Mammoth doesn’t mean we should.

  • Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

    It’s nice to see a decision by this administration that some thought went into and isn’t obviously a bad idea. This is not to say that it is a good idea. But not being obviously a bad idea is a huge leap forward.

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