Scientists intentionally make viruses more infectious; researcher explains how it’s linked to COVID-19

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – A specific type of controversial research exists that aims to take an existing virus and intentionally make it more contagious and infectious.

It’s called “gain of function” research and is defined by the National Institutes of Health as research designed to “enhance the pathogenicity or transmissibility of potential pandemic pathogens.”

But why would such a thing exist and how does it relate to the current coronavirus pandemic? News 8 spoke with Dr. Ana Bento, assistant professor at IU School of Public Health, to get some answers.

“It’s actually [a type of research] used to understand the mechanism as to how a virus can become more virulent and more transmissible,” Bento said. “It’s designed to help researchers study the interaction between viruses and hosts. Hosts can be animals or humans.”

Specifically, Bento says scientists look for certain genes that are lost or gained. Changes in genes affect transmission and contagion as well as the interaction of the virus between humans or animals and humans.

This research is not new. It’s been studied in U.S. laboratories for years. It’s also used in Wuhan, China.

But it’s not just gain of function research. It can also be loss of function. While gain of function and loss of function research have not yet begun with regards to COVID-19, Bento says it’s likely in the near future. The approach will help scientists modify vaccines to protect against new COVID-19 variants that continue to emerge throughout the world and the U.S.

“There is a purpose for these experiments. There will be labs doing these types of gain or loss of function for SARS-CoV-2 eventually. This [research] will help us control whatever new variants will be popping up in the future,” said Bento.


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