In a newly resurfaced paper from 2012, Dr. Anthony Fauci argued that the benefits of gain-of-function research are worth the increased risk of a potential pandemic-causing lab accident.
The Weekend Australian unearthed a paper Fauci wrote for the American Society for Microbiology in October 2012 in which he argued in support of gain-of-function research. Such research involves making viruses more infectious and/or deadly. Experts have raised the possibility that the COVID-19 pandemic could have originated from a potential lab leak at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan, China, where gain-of-function experiments on bat coronaviruses have been conducted.
Despite the risks involved, Fauci called gain-of-function experiments “important work” in his 2012 writing:
In an unlikely but conceivable turn of events, what if that scientist becomes infected with the virus, which leads to an outbreak and ultimately triggers a pandemic? Many ask reasonable questions: given the possibility of such a scenario – however remote – should the initial experiments have been performed and/or published in the first place, and what were the processes involved in this decision?
Scientists working in this field might say – as indeed I have said – that the benefits of such experiments and the resulting knowledge outweigh the risks. It is more likely that a pandemic would occur in nature, and the need to stay ahead of such a threat is a primary reason for performing an experiment that might appear to be risky.
Within the research community, many have expressed concern that important research progress could come to a halt just because of the fear that someone, somewhere, might attempt to replicate these experiments sloppily. This is a valid concern.
The Weekend Australian report adds that Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, did not alert senior White House officials before lifting a ban on gain-of-function research in 2017.
In 2014, the Obama administration paused funding for gain-of-function experiments in 22 fields, including those involving SARS, influenza and MERS because of the increased risk such experimentation carries of causing a pandemic. In 2012, when Fauci authored the paper supporting gain-of-function research, there was a voluntary ban on such experiments related to highly infectious influenza viruses
By Brittany Bernstein