New restrictions on germ research

The Obama administration has announced new restrictions on federally funded universities and labs that research potentially dangerous pathogens.

Designed to prevent bioterrorism or an accidental release of virulent germs, the new regulations target 15 high-risk pathogens.

Scientists whose research involves any of the targeted pathogens are now required to get their employer’s approval and inform the federal government before beginning any experiments. Researchers and institutions that do not comply may lose federal funding.

These measures are a response to an incident in 2011, when researchers in the U.S. and the Netherlands cooperated to develop a strain of avian flu that was transmissible among some ferrets. Although the National Institutes of Health funded the experiments, the U.S. government kept its participation a secret. When the news broke, public backlash was intense.

Nevertheless, some experts remain skeptical of the new security measures. A multinational coalition of scientists opposed restrictions on pathogen research, arguing that such research is vital to public health.

Other researchers have voiced concern over the fact that the new measures only target 15 pathogens. Some of the deadliest viruses, including SARS and MERS, aren’t on the list.

We support the new security measures, as we feel that they do not present any danger to well-researched and professional scientific experiments. Moreover, while we firmly believe that pathogen research is essential to global health, we hope to see the list of targeted pathogens expand to include other dangerous germs.