COVID-19 Lab Leak Scrutiny Has Led To Less ‘Gain-Of-Function’ Virus Research

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Increased scrutiny of the possibility that the COVID-19 virus leaked from a lab in Wuhan, China has led to less gain-of-function virus research, The New York Times reported.

Gain-of-function experiments, which consist of scientists genetically mutating a virus to make it more lethal and contagious, have been declining because of heightened scrutiny, according to the NYT. Due to many experts considering it likely that this research led to the leak of COVID-19 from the Chinese laboratory, scientists are not proposing the experiments as much anymore and government agencies have been less likely to approve it. (RELATED: University Asks Judge To Block Release Of Documents Related To Dangerous Coronavirus Research)

Pennsylvania State University Virologist Troy Sutton has ceased pitching gain-of-function experiments partly because of disputes related to the lab leak theory, according to the NYT.

“The cost of dealing with the regulations is too high,” Sutton told the NYT. “I stopped dreaming up those kinds of experiments.”

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) informed Sutton it would not finance his ferret virus transmission experiment in the summer of 2020, according to the NYT.

“They just said, ‘You know, there’s a lot of controversy about this kind of work in the news right now,’” Sutton told the NYT. “They weren’t comfortable funding it.”

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) terminated a $125 million initiative to gather animal viruses in 12 countries following lawmaker concerns, reported in September.

“Scientists are backing away from certain lines of research just in anticipation of the delays and paperwork,” Emory University Influenza Virologist Anice Lowen told the NYT.  “A lot of parties are becoming more conservative.”

Some scientists assert this type of research could help prevent the next pandemic, but others are concerned it could cause another one, according to the NYT. They state it helps them identify what mutations lead to danger in viruses, which could assist in determining which animal-to-human viruses are most threatening and increase vaccine preparation for potential pandemic pathogens.

However, the risk of a disaster occurring is too risky, especially in comparison to the potential benefits, so the increasing scrutiny is crucial, some scientists assert, according to the NYT.

“I can’t complain when what I regard as legitimate political criticism of certain kinds of science affects the judgment of funding agencies,” Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch told the NYT. “Ultimately, they are spending tax dollars.”

Close to 24 virologists detailed to the NYT how their profession is withdrawing from controversial experiments because of scrutiny by the government and other authoritative entities.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has led USAID and the U.S. government as a whole to assess priorities and approach to pandemic preparedness,” a USAID spokesperson told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “This includes aligning resources to achieve the commitments within the National Biodefense Strategy, the relative risks and impact of our programming (including biosafety and biosecurity capacity), as well as how to optimally allocate USAID’s global health security resources.”

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and NIH did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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