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Bipartisan bill would halt taxpayer funding for gain-of-function research

Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A bipartisan duo of House lawmakers introduced legislation last Friday that would halt federal funding for gain-of-function research, the controversial field of viral research that some believe could potentially cause a pandemic.

Reps. Buddy Carter (R-Ga.) and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) have put forward a bill that would pause taxpayer funding for gain-of-function research for a period of five years.

"Without proper safety standards and protocols, gain-of-function research creates an immense risk of man-made, deadly pathogens entering our communities," the lawmakers wrote in a statement.

Gain-of-function research studies how pathogens might be enhanced to cause new, potentially deadlier infectious diseases. Experiments in this field of research involve taking a pathogen that was found in nature and altering it in a lab to study how it might evolve. The purpose of the research is to study how diseases might become deadly to humans, so that vaccines and other preventive measures could be developed to control and prevent a pandemic.

But some gain-of-function experiments take viruses that were not dangerous to human beings and engineer them to be infectious to humans, which critics say risks causing a new pandemic if such an engineered virus is somehow released from a laboratory.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists studying the SARs-CoV-2 virus have raised the possibility that features of the virus looked engineered. While many respected scientists maintain that the most likely explanation for the origins of COVID-19 are natural, after it became known that U.S. taxpayer-funded gain-of-function experiments were conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China, others are calling for a full investigation into the possibility that COVID-19 came from the lab.

"This is something we never should have allowed without proper oversight and safety protocols," Carter said. "We knew the dangers of gain-of-function research, but the National Institute of Health and Dr. Fauci continued to fund it in America and overseas. Evidence continues to mount that COVID-19 originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology with research funded by U.S. taxpayers. We must double down on our efforts to prevent irresponsible research and protect our communities from future pandemics. Our bill will prevent taxpayer funds from being used to conduct gain-of-function research until we can ensure proper safety standards are put in place."

"The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our economic, educational, and public health well-being. As one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries in the world, the United States needs to prepare and invest in measures that help to prevent any future pandemics," Cuellar said. "Gain-of-function research has been directly linked to the spark of the coronavirus pandemic. The Pausing Enhanced Pandemic Pathogen Research Act is the best path forward to ensure that we avoid U.S. taxpayer funds from falling into the wrong hands. I look forward to working closely with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure that we pass responsible legislation for our futures."

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