• COVID-19 originsU.S. Intelligence Community's Report Inconclusive on COVID-19 Origins

    In May, the U.S. intelligence community (IC) was tasked by President Joe Biden to investigate the origins of CVID-19. On Tuesday, the IC delivered its assessment to the White House. The IC report is inconclusive, offering no definitive answer to the question of whether COVID-19 jumped to humans naturally, or was released from a lab.

  • Gain-of-function researchWhy Gain-of-Function Research Matters

    By David Gillum and Rebecca Moritz

    There are unanswered questions about the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, so both the U.S. government and scientists have called for a deeper examination of the validity of claims that a virus could have escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China. Much of the discussion surrounds “gain-of-function” research. What is gain-of-function research? What are the benefits of this research, and how risky is it?

  • Lab safetyIt’s Time to Talk about Lab Safety

    A new website, GlobalBioLabs.org, is an interactive web-based map of global Biosafety Level 4 facilities and biorisk management policies. Only 17 of the 23 countries that house BSL-4 laboratories have national biosafety associations or are members of international partnerships.

  • Risky bioresearchFifty-Nine Labs around World Handle the Deadliest Pathogens – Only a Quarter Score High on Safety

    By Filippa Lentzos and Gregory Koblentz

    The focal point of this lab-leak discussion is the Wuhan Institute of Virology, nestled in the hilly outskirts of Wuhan. It is just one of 59 maximum containment labs in operation, under construction or planned around the world. Known as biosafety level 4 (BSL4) labs, these are designed and built so that researchers can safely work with the most dangerous pathogens on the planet – ones that can cause serious disease and for which no treatment or vaccines exist. Far from all of these labs score well on safety and security.

  • BiolabsHere’s What Scientists Learn from Studying Dangerous Pathogens in Secure Labs

    By Jerry Malayer

    There are about 1,400 known human pathogens – viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa and helminths that can cause a person’s injury or death. But in a world with a trillion individual species of microorganisms, where scientists have counted only one one-thousandth of one percent, how likely is it researchers have discovered and characterized everything that might threaten people? Not very likely at all. And there’s a lot to be gained from knowing these microscopic enemies better.

  • ARGUMENT: Covid-19 originsThe Origins of Covid-19 and Preventing the Next Pandemic

    Did COVID-19 originate with bats or scientists? Amanda Moodie and Nicholas Evans write that the desire to identify the origins of the novel coronavirus is perfectly understandable, but that “while answering the question of where the novel coronavirus came from is important, many of the most important policy decisions the United States needs to make to prevent future pandemics do not depend on viral origins.” “there is one important scenario in which it would be absolutely vital to know the origins of COVID-19: If “the pandemic stemmed from a deliberate attempt to develop a biological warfare agent, this would have serious implications for the Biological Weapons Convention and the broader norm against the use of disease as a weapon.”

  • PERSPECTIVE: Plum IslandCongress’s Spending Bill Protects a Mysterious Island for Studying Diseases from the Auction Block

    For decades, Plum Island, off the northeast edge of Long Island, has been the subject of the kind of conspiracy theories the Internet loves. The truth is more prosaic: By order of Congress, the Plum Island Animal Disease Laboratory opened in 1956 to study how to combat dangerous foreign animal pathogens, such as foot-and-mouth disease. A dozen years ago, Congress approved a plan to move the animal research facility to Manhattan, Kansas. The move was to be followed by auctioning Plum Island to the highest bidder. A coalition consisting of environmental groups, Native American nations, local businesses, and other organizations was formed to block any such sale. James Bennet writes that “deep within the 5,000-plus pages of the spending bill awaiting President Trump’s signature… is a terse provision that saves Plum Island from the auction block.”

  • BiothreatsU.S. Army Infectious Diseases Research Institute Resumes Operations

    The U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) ten days ago said it would resume limited research, following a successful recent inspection by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention. In July 2019, the CDC suspended USAMRIID’s registration to work with Biological Select Agents and Toxins, citing issues with its biosafety program. The Institute notes that there was no risk to employee health, public health, or the environment, and no infectious agents were detected outside of containment areas.

  • Man-made epidemicsThe Risk of Lab-Created Pandemic Pathogens

    In 2017, considerable new data became available which calls for a new estimation of the risk of release into the community of lab-created potential pandemic pathogens. In a new study, one expert writes that these are “the most worrisome potential pandemic pathogens because a highly transmissible strain released from a lab into the community could seed a pandemic with substantial worldwide fatalities.”

  • Perspective: PandemicsGlobal Pandemic Threat: “Human Error” Leak of Lab Virus Now a “Substantial Probability”

    Lynn Klotz, Senior Science Fellow at the Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation said: “There is a substantial probability that a pandemic with over one hundred million fatalities could be seeded from an undetected lab-acquired infection.” Laboratories run by Ron Fouchier in the Netherlands and Yoshihiro Kawaoka in Madison, Wisconsin have begun a “research enterprise” aimed at creating mammalian-airborne-transmissible, highly pathogenic, avian-influenza live viruses. Such viruses could be transmitted through the air, similar to seasonal human influenza.

  • Perspective: Biosafety labsBiosafety Levels in Laboratories – What is the Difference?

    The United States is home to several types of laboratories that conduct medical research on a variety of infectious biological agents to promote the development of new diagnostic tests, medical countermeasures, and treatments. The CDC has devised a system of Biosafety Labs (BSL) designations. Ranked from lowest to the highest level of containment, they are BSL-1, BSL-2, BSL-3, and BSL-4. The BSL designations outline specific safety and facility requirements to achieve the appropriate biosafety and biocontainment. The BSL is assigned based on the type of infectious agent on which the research is being conducted. For example, a BSL-4 conducts research on dangerous and exotic agents with a high-risk of causing life-threatening disease, the possibility of aerosol transmission, and no known treatment or therapy (e.g., Marbug virus, Congo-Crimean virus, Ebola virus).

  • Perspective: Mind gamesThe Secret History of Fort Detrick, the CIA’s Base for Mind Control Experiments

    Suburban sprawl has engulfed Fort Detrick, an Army base 50 miles from Washington in the Maryland town of Frederick. seventy-six years ago, however, when the Army selected Detrick as the place to develop its super-secret plans to wage germ warfare, the area around the base looked much different. In fact, it was chosen for its isolation. For decades, much of what went on at the base was a closely held secret. Directors of the CIA mind control program MK-ULTRA, which used Detrick as a key base, destroyed most of their records in 1973. Some of its secrets have been revealed in declassified documents, through interviews and as a result of congressional investigations. Together, those sources reveal Detrick’s central role in MK-ULTRA and in the manufacture of poisons intended to kill foreign leaders.

  • Perspective: Designer pathogensIs There a Role for the Biological Weapons Convention in Oversight of Lab-Created Potential Pandemic Pathogens?

    Fourteen labs in the United States are working on creating mammalian-airborne-transmissible, highly-pathogenic, avian-influenza live viruses. These viruses are examples of lab-created potentially pandemic pathogens that bring up questions reflecting real concerns: Should details of this dual-use research be published? Could lab-created potentially pandemic pathogens be accidentally released from a laboratory into the community and seed a human pandemic? Could they be employed as biological weapons? The probability of accidental release into the community from one of the laboratories in this research enterprise is uncomfortably high. For these and other lab-created potentially pandemic pathogens, just one laboratory-infected researcher could seed a pandemic. Furthermore, a laboratory worker with hostile intent could introduce a potentially pandemic pathogen into the community.

  • Designer pathogensPox on everybody’s house

    It was not so long ago that a NIH scientist stumbled across smallpox vials in a cold-storage room — and it was not during a time of increased concern for synthetic biology. Pandora Report notes that from CRISPR babies to garage DIY biohacking kits, it seems like the last few years have been inundated with synbio conversations.

  • BiothreatsBiolabs accidents, and genetic modification research

    Exposures to infectious diseases in Bioafety level-3 (BSL-3) and BSL-4 environments can be scary, but they do happen. Concern has always extended beyond the safety of the laboratory worker, but also that a pathogen of pandemic potential could be released. Other aspects of lab safety have raised concern as well, as more attention has been directed toward gain-of-function (GoF) research.