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Gain of Oversight

US officials and some scientists are calling for greater oversight of gain-of-function research and other potentially risky experiments, the Wall Street Journal reports.

It notes that interest in conducting such studies has risen with the COVID-19 pandemic and the push to figure out how pathogens like it might evolve and gauge which might pose the greatest threat, while also developing vaccines and drugs to combat any outbreaks. But at the same time, the Journal adds, the contentious debate over COVID-19 origins has also highlighted potential risks of such studies.

In the US, gain-of-function are subject to oversight. Studies involving avian influenza were stopped for a year in the early 2010s as publication of two studies describing how to make H5N1 more easily transmitted was debated. The White House then paused funding for such studies in 2014 until new guidelines were developed.

But the Journal writes that it is not always clear which studies need that extra scrutiny. It adds that the Biden Administration is considering forming a new group focused on biosecurity or expanding the scope of current oversight efforts. "This is a high priority for us," Beth Cameron, senior director for Global Health Security and Biodefense at the US National Security Council, tells the Journal. "The pandemic was an extraordinary wake-up call about what biology can do, what infectious diseases can do, and where our vulnerabilities are in response."