Fight over COVID's origins renews debate over gain-of-function research

The secrecy of the screening process was the most worrisome part of government oversight of potentially dangerous research, according to Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization, who was doing research in the United States at that time. “It’s not clear how they decide what’s acceptable gain of function and what’s not,” she said.

However, the “star chamber” nature of the process was not its biggest problem, said Richard Ebright, a molecular biologist at Rutgers who has also been one of the most vocal proponents of the lab leak theory, and a longtime advocate of stricter control of research on dangerous pathogens. An even bigger issue, he said, was that gain-of-function research was simply not being screened in accordance with the policy established by H.H.S., which includes the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, run by Dr. Fauci.

The ideal solution, he said, would be the creation of an independent body to provide the oversight of dangerous pathogen research, similar to what the Nuclear Regulatory Commission does for studies of radioactive materials.