Obama Now Claims that He’s Shutting Down Domestic Germ Program
The New York Times reported last week that President Obama is so concerned about these accidental releases that he’s clamping down on germ research:
Prompted by controversy over dangerous research and recent laboratory accidents, the White House announced Friday that it would temporarily halt all new funding for experiments thatseek to study certain infectious agents by making them more dangerous.
It also encouraged scientists involved in such research on the influenza, SARS and MERS viruses to voluntarily pause their work while its risks were reassessed.
The announcement, which was made by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Department of Health and Human Services, did not say how long the moratorium would last. It said a “deliberative process to assess the potential risks and benefits” would begin this month and stretch at least into next year.
The move appeared to be a sudden change of heart by the Obama administration, whichlast month issued regulations calling for more stringent federal oversight of such research and requiring scientists and universities to disclose that their work might be risky, rather than expecting federal agencies to notice.
The moratorium is only on research on influenza virus and the coronaviruses that cause SARS and MERS.
The debate over the wisdom of “gain of function” research erupted in 2011 when the labs of Ron Fouchier of Erasmus University in the Netherlands, and Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, separately announced that they had succeeded in making the lethal H5N1 avian flu easily transmissible between ferrets, which are a model for human susceptibility to flu.
The debate heated up further this year when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention admitted it had suffered laboratory accidents that exposed dozens of workers to anthrax and shipped deadly avian flu virus to another federal lab that had asked for a more benign flu strain.
The White House said the moratorium decision had been made “following recent biosafety incidents at federal research facilities.”
Many scientists were furious that such work had been permitted and even supported with American tax dollars. But others argued that it was necessary to learn which genetic mutations make viruses more dangerous. If those mutations began appearing naturally as the viruses circulated in animals and people, warnings could be issued and vaccines designed, they said.