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No Pathogens for You

Officials in the US rejected two-thirds of the proposals it received between 2006 and 2013 seeking to study dangerous pathogens, ScienceInsider reports.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Robbin Weyant and his team report in Health Security that the agency's Division of Select Agents and Toxins (DSAT), which regulates and oversees the use of certain bacteria, viruses, and toxins, received 618 requests from 109 organizations to perform potentially restricted studies. Most of these requests, they say, didn't meet the definition of a restricted experiment, and of the 91 that did, DSAT only approved 31.

At ScienceInsider, Jocelyn Kaiser wonders whether this means that researchers are being overly careful in asking DSAT for approval when it's not necessary.

"It's a matter of due diligence," Weyant, the DSAT director, tells her. "We encourage regulated entities that have research activities involving any kind of selection or cloning component to go ahead and send their protocols to us. We try to be very timely and provide a quick turnaround."

Weyant and his team add that most of the denied requests involved studies that proposed to insert drug resistance traits into select agents, which they said could compromise the control of disease. About half of those agents were either Burkholderia mallei or Brucella abortus.

Still, Rutgers University's Richard Ebright tells Kaiser the oversight of such experiments isn't tight enough. He argues that additional items should be added to the list of select agents.