Gain of Function (GoF) is a laboratory process applied to viruses to increase their ability to transmit. One method is Genetic Engineering when the scientists build a new virus from RNA and proteins. The second is to change the environment around existing viruses, multiple times, to encourage mutations. This technique is called Serial Passage. It effectively speeds up nature. Genetic Engineering leaves a signature that is clearly ‘man-made’ but Serial Passage does not.
GoF is meant to enable studies into how pandemics develop. However, the usefulness of the studies is dubious. They do not help in the development of vaccines, for example, and haven’t helped improve pandemic defences. There are dangers, too. The, often lethal, viruses need to be very carefully contained in laboratories, maintained to an extremely high standard. Even so, accidents do happen.
In 2011, research into H5N1 Avian Flu Virus provoked some alarm. Add to that increased reports of leakage at secure laboratories and the US banned GoF research into MERS, SARS and Avian Flu between 2014 and 2017. However, Gain of Function studies into how bat coronaviruses could mutate to infect humans continued to be funded by the American authorities. One laboratory to receive grants, the » Continue Reading.