December 4, 2023

When research becomes dangerous

HCarelessness, misstep, cut: High security laboratories are designed to ensure that human errors have as few consequences as possible. Although they are rare, a list of global events shows that they cannot be completely prevented. About twenty years ago, infections occurred during laboratory work with the first SARS pathogen in China, samples of inactivated anthrax were mistakenly sent to Great Britain, and an Australian worker contracted dengue fever after working with a mosquito colony. A few years ago, the Bernhard Nocht Institute in Hamburg made headlines when a researcher injured herself with a needle and it was initially unclear whether she had Ebola. She was isolated and released in good health after recovering.

It’s a nightmare: Research that’s supposed to protect people from dangerous pathogens could also cause harm. “Humanity has reached a critical point in the global development of the enormous experimental potential in the life sciences,” she said at the end of 2022. In a comment in “Science”. Research using Gain of Function (GoF) is particularly controversial. Here pathogens acquire properties they did not have before; For example, to investigate the effects of mutations. There is a risk of accidental release, as well as intentional release – including for military use. This is called “dual use” capability.

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