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Keeping Watch

The White House released a new policy this week guiding how dual-use research of concern — such as work reconstructing the 1918 flu virus or making an avian flu strain more easily transmitted — should be overseen.

These new regulations aim to “preserve the benefits of life-science research while minimizing the risk of misuse," US National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins tells the New York Times.

In particular, the policy focuses on experiments involving 15 specific agents and toxins, such as Bacillus anthracis, the Ebola virus, and Yersinia pestis, that aim to make them more harmful, more contagious, or resistant to therapies, among others.

Projects involving these pathogens are to be assessed by a board at the researchers' institution that will determine the risks and inform the federal funding agency, typically the NIH. The investigators and their institution would then develop a plan to mitigate those risks, while the funding agency will provide guidance and determine whether the project should be funded.

Non-compliance could lead to a loss of funding, the New York Times adds, noting that critics say such penalties are rarely put into place. NIH, Rutgers University's Richard Ebright says, has “a sorry track record of nonenforcement.”

The guidelines don't, however, cover gain-of-function research, the Nature News Blog points out. Experiments aimed at making pathogens not among those 15 listed more dangerous aren't included, though government officials say additional guidelines to be released shortly will address such work, it adds.

The call for such a policy governing dual-use research of concern was thrown into focus in 2011 when researchers succeeded in making bird flu more contagious in ferrets.

The Scan

Call for a Different Tack

Experts weigh the value of recent experiments testing genetically modified pig kidneys using brain-dead individuals, according to Nature News.

Wastewater Warning

The New York Times reports that wastewater surveillance in some parts of the US point to a possible surge.

Can't Get in the Program

Due to the Northern Ireland protocol dispute, the European Union is preventing UK researchers from joining the Horizon Europe research program, the Times of London reports.

Science Paper on Spatial-Controlled Genome Editing

In Science this week: approach to enable a CRISPR-Cas13a-based system to be used as a cancer therapy.