Rapid Proliferation of Pandemic Research: Implications for Dual-Use Risks


The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the world’s vulnerability to biological catastrophe and elicited unprecedented scientific efforts. Some of this work and its derivatives, however, present dual-use risks (i.e., potential harm from misapplication of beneficial research) that have largely gone unaddressed. For instance, gain-of-function studies and reverse genetics protocols may facilitate the engineering of concerning SARS-CoV-2 variants and other pathogens. The risk of accidental or deliberate release of dangerous pathogens may be increased by large-scale collection and characterization of zoonotic viruses undertaken in an effort to understand what enables animal-to-human transmission. These concerns are exacerbated by the rise of preprint publishing that circumvents a late-stage opportunity for dual-use oversight. To prevent the next global health emergency, we must avoid inadvertently increasing the threat of future biological events. This requires a nuanced and proactive approach to dual-use evaluation throughout the research life cycle, including the conception, funding, conduct, and dissemination of research.


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