Gain-of-Function (Research)

In virology and microbiology, gain-of-function (GoF) research includes methods and experiments that aim to produce gain or loss of function in a virus or organism.1) Some GoF research involves the creation of a chimera (“chimeric organism”).

Due both to the rapidly developing nature of GoF research and policy changes affecting the field, terminology associated with the field has changed quickly over the years.2)

Controversy

Due to the profound effects of GoF research, including biowarfare, policy groups in and out of government debate the nature of GoF research hotly. This controversy heated up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

History of GoF Research

Timeline of Major GoF Research Events

  • Aug 15, 2003 - Kuo et al; Gain-of-function mutations indicate that Escherichia coli Kch forms a functional K+ conduit in vivo.3)
  • May 2, 2012 - Imai et al; Experimental adaptation of an influenza H5 HA confers respiratory droplet transmission to a reassortant H5 HA/H1N1 virus in ferrets.4)
  • June 22, 2012 - Herfst et al; Airborne Transmission of Influenza A/H5N1 Virus Between Ferrets.5)
  • March 13, 2013 - Wang et al; A gain-of-function mutation in IAA8 alters Arabidopsis floral organ development by change of jasmonic acid level.6)
  • Nov 30, 2017 - Hu et al; Discovery of a rich gene pool of bat SARS-related coronaviruses provides new insights into the origin of SARS coronavirus.7)

Timeline GoF and Lab Leaks

GMWatch - February 19, 2022 By Professor Paul R. Goddard

Two myths have hindered investigations into the origins of the SARS-CoV-2 virus: one, that viruses seldom escape from laboratories; and two, that most pandemics are zoonotic, caused by a natural spillover of a virus from animals to humans. Promoters of the first myth include the World Health Organization (WHO).8)

Policy

On October 17, 2013, The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and Department of Health and Human Services announced a detailed review into gain-of-function research, and a pause on such research.9)

Biological Weapons Research

Death threat: BioPro in the American way Publication date - 08 June 2012 Valentin Evstigneev, retired lieutenant general, former head of Biological Shielding Administration

At first sight, the situation in this sphere isn't too bad. Uninitiated hardly will see the threats here comparable, for example, to the crisis of the European financial system. And only message on the renewed outbreaks of the African plague of pigs in various regions of Russia, frequent cases of poliomyelitis and the measles, experiences proceeding in the separate countries, over a virus of bird flu, developing in a complete picture, set thinking the narrow circle of experts about what casual character is carried by these events and whether our health system in its present condition is capable to cope with real and potential threats of biological safety of the state.

Now the situation in the country looks so that the politicians forgot about contents of such documents as “Bases of state policy in the field of chemical and biological safety ensuring of the Russian Federation for the period till 2010 and further prospect” and the Decree of the President of Russia “Of the strategy of national security of the Russian Federation till 2020” in which the biological safety ensuring of the country is defined as one of the most important directions of strengthening of national security.

The calmness of the domestic officials is especially surprising against the extremely disturbing information on an ambiguous state of affairs with counteraction to biological threats not only at our next neighbors, but also in such “exemplary” state in every respect as the USA.

According to experts’ statements, the internal threat increases in the USA which proceeds from activity of own scientific institutions which have acquired the right to work with “list” biological agents from the state. According to the published data, the USA had officially more than 400 such establishments as of 2006. Special concern is caused with that process of expansion of bio-dangerous laboratory base left from under control of the authorities. Thus even FBI can't precisely define the number of laboratories of high level of bio-safety, operating in the country.

Experts draw a conclusion that the centers, created to solve the counteraction problems to bioterrorism, became the source of new threats and not only in scales of the USA. Owing to weak control, there were possible facts of loss and theft of dangerous microbes and viruses, acts of “post” bioterrorism with the use of the causative agent of anthrax, the attempt of receiving access to technologies and dangerous activators from mentally unbalanced citizens, criminal and other socially dangerous persons.

Similar “liberties” are not only an internal affair of the USA, but also a subject of attention of international law.

The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) provided the institute of confidence-building measures assuming the annual announcement by the participating states about the content of the bacteriological researches and the corresponding scientific objects. This mechanism is actually unique significant instrument of providing at least relative transparency of carried-out works. The American side intentionally allows the discrepancy and distortion in the declarations from year to year. Thus the quantity of the objects which are directly related to programs of the Ministry of Defence of the USA in the field of biological protection is artificially underestimated.

On this background the works on clarification of the mechanism of virus of flu H5N1 transfer look absolutely menacing. The genome of notorious virus “Spaniard” is restored at the Institute of pathology of the Armed Forces of the USA and the works of the Australian scientists on increase of virulence of the causative agent of mice smallpox are successfully repeated at Saint-Louis University. The experiments on creation of artificially synthesized virus of natural smallpox are made at the university of Pennsylvania State. Thus, contrary to BTWC, this exclusively dangerous to all mankind work isn't supervised by the world community at all.10)

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