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Renewed Gain-of-Function Worries

The lab-leak theory for the spread of COVID-19 is reviving worries about gain-of-function research, the New York Times reports.

The term, it adds, came up as US Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) queried Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and White House chief medical advisor, as to whether the National Institutes of Health had funded such work in China, which Fauci said it did not. As the Times writes, the exchange recalled a decade-long debate over gain-of-function research.

In 2011, two research groups announced that they were able to generate new variants of the avian influenza virus H5N1 that was more easily transmissible through air, sparking controversy. Following this and the revelation of some sample-handling mishaps the US paused gain-of-function studies involving influenza, SARS, and MERS until a new policy was hammered out.

But experts tell the Times that the policy falls short. It only applies to research funded by certain agencies and approvals have been made by a committee whose membership, qualifications, and criteria for allowing gain-of-function research are unclear, leading to calls for greater transparency. For instance, Rutgers University's Richard Ebright has proposed an independent council to oversee such pathogen research like Nuclear Regulatory Commission that oversees work involving radioactive materials.

"There are no biosafety rules or regulations that have the force of law" in the US, he tells the paper. "And this is in contrast to every other aspect of biomedical research."

The Scan

LINE-1 Linked to Premature Aging Conditions

Researchers report in Science Translational Medicine that the accumulation of LINE-1 RNA contributes to premature aging conditions and that symptoms can be improved by targeting them.

Team Presents Cattle Genotype-Tissue Expression Atlas

Using RNA sequences representing thousands of cattle samples, researchers looked at relationships between cattle genotype and tissue expression in Nature Genetics.

Researchers Map Recombination in Khoe-San Population

With whole-genome sequences for dozens of individuals from the Nama population, researchers saw in Genome Biology fine-scale recombination patterns that clustered outside of other populations.

Myotonic Dystrophy Repeat Detected in Family Genome Sequencing Analysis

While sequencing individuals from a multi-generation family, researchers identified a myotonic dystrophy type 2-related short tandem repeat in the European Journal of Human Genetics.