One hundred and fifty-six scientists have just published a long letter in various journals explaining why we need to continue with Gain of Function (GOF) research. Their timing, coinciding with the release of (the questionable) video by Project Veritas suggesting Pfizer’s business practices apparently include GOF (under the guise of the term Directed Evolution), couldn’t have been worse.
Particularly now, when it looks increasing likely that the Wuhan Institute of Virology and their GOF research (US funded) on coronaviruses led to this pandemic. Even the ex-CDC Director has come out in favor of the lab leak theory. So, is this a good idea?
Can I Get a NO? A Loud, Resounding, Absolute NO.
Not in any rational, sane world that is intent on survival of the species, can we permit the continuance of this kind of research in its current form. Especially in the kinds of laboratories we currently use, where apparently, upgrading the walls to Swiss cheese would offer better protection than is currently available. Especially in the hands of scientists, politicians, media and a pharmaceutical industry all of whom have just schooled us on how to manipulate the human race.
How many millions more may pay with their lives for the greed, avarice or incompetence of the few? We haven’t yet held these individuals to account for the 2019 pandemic and here we are again, back on the roundabout, hell bent on laying the groundwork for a second one.
And that is really where the problem lies. It isn’t the science that’s flawed. GOF is a really useful tool, but like the most deadly assault rifle, it can be used for protection or for mass extinction. It depends on the hand that wields it and science has been coopted by individuals and companies that look only to profit and the pursuits of their political masters. In the process, we die, by the millions.
To depress you even further, we cannot walk this back. Not ever. The gene-manipulating genie is out of the bottle and there’s no putting it back. This type of research will still continue, even if it is outlawed at the highest levels. The potential rewards, which are huge, far outweigh the risks. The only solution is to manage it, somehow.
How Do We Fix This?
Elon, so glad you stopped by, as you, or a group of individuals (we understand not everyone can buy the bluebird of happiness on a whim) may very well hold the key to our continued existence, and no, I am not suggesting relocating Pfizer, Moderna and the rest of their motley crew doing pathogen research to Mars, although I’d probably chip in myself for the rocket fuel for that trip.
We know that the current logistical management for GOF needs to be better. Unfortunately, we cannot contain the viruses we work on safely within a facility without them escaping; even our highest levels of security, BSL4 labs, are breached. Every year, incidents occur across the globe, and we may even have the next potential pandemic underway as I write, that is how frequently it happens.
Logic dictates we either stop the practice (not happening) or take steps to ensure we don’t kill the entire global population, unintentionally, or otherwise. To do this, it is critical we remove the danger from populated areas.
We need to establish a global research facility, one of a kind, independently monitored and audited, that is as far removed from proximity to humanity as possible. The middle of the desert springs to mind, a dedicated center for viral research where, in the event of a breach, only the unfortunate scientists pay the price for their carelessness.
To overcome the strain of lengthy periods of isolation, a facility constructed for these purposes could be expanded to include schooling and retail therapy, allowing scientists to pursue their passions and research in a semblance of normality. Most of the pioneers and researchers engaged in Gain of Function are driven by the science, they are passionate and focused, and again, it is their work that is co-opted, rarely the individual.
Quarantines would apply to all personnel leaving the facility, requiring a five-day plus furlough in a Trump Hotel built five miles away. Driverless Teslas, repurposed for deliveries, would alleviate the need for contact with the outside world, and Elon, you could use this as a dry run for Mars.
Humor aside though, the idea has merit and may very well offer a way out of our current predicament. The only other viable alternative is to temporarily halt all research until we are able to fully automate facilities handling dangerous viruses. By that, I mean no human interaction at all. Experiments could be performed remotely, utilizing robotics. We are technically capable of this, but it would be incredibly expensive (I wonder who has a few billion in pandemic profits lying around), restricting who would be able to utilize this kind of technology.
Great Kindness or Greed? We All Hope the Former
Humans are capable of great kindness and innovation, but the danger with this type of research always defaults to the involvement of the human element. We are prone to making mistakes, ask all the unfortunate and very dead researchers working with these pathogens when they escape. Realistically, if safety is our paramount concern, and it should be, our only viable option is to remove GOF research from its proximity to our populations. Back to option 1.
This discussion is unfolding right now, preempted by the letter I referred to above. Perhaps the logic here was to get their case heard before all the wheels come off. When evidence surfaces, and it will, to corroborate the lab leak theory for the SARS virus, all bets will be off. The backlash will be spectacular and science, unfortunately will pay the price. Science we desperately need to cure the ills that have been ailing us for generations.
Villagers and their torches aren’t particular about what they set fire to, and in this instance, they have good cause and science will burn.
Any solution that removes the risk of exposure to pathogens from accidental spillage, cannot obviously account for nefarious intentions, sadly something the industry is rife with. Another thorn in the side of ethical science that needs to be overcome and security at this remote facility would need to be ironclad.
GOF Can Result in Life-Saving Drugs or Danger
We’d like to spark a proper conversation on this subject, involving people who have the resources (Elon, you still here?) to implement solutions that are in the interest of both science and public safety. The two parties must find a way to safely coexist.
It is also worth mentioning that gain of function is far more than what the public perceives it to be. The technology is critical to developing new drugs, new cancer treatments and many other practical uses that do not focus on weaponizing pathogens. Making a virus more deadly may utilize Gain of Function technology, but it represents only a fraction of the industry’s use of the technology.
If you have thoughts on the matter or would like to publish something relating to this, please feel free to reach out to Medika Life via DMs on Twitter. You’ll find us hugely receptive.