When researchers at Boston University (BU) in Massachusetts inserted a gene from the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 into a strain of the virus from the beginning of the pandemic, they were trying to understand why Omicron causes mild disease.
But the experiments, described in a 14 October preprint1, have ignited a red-hot controversy over what constitutes truly risky SARS-CoV-2 research — especially now that much of the world’s population has some immune protection from the virus and COVID-19 treatments are available.
At issue is whether — and when — researchers modifying SARS-CoV-2 or other deadly pathogens need to keep regulators and funding agencies such as the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) informed about their work, even if the agencies didn’t fund the experiments in question. Studies that make pathogens more transmissible or virulent are sometimes called ‘gain of function’ research.
Source: Which COVID studies pose a biohazard? Lack of clarity hampers research