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How likely is it that biological agents will be used deliberately to cause widespread harm?

Thomas V. Inglesby, David A Relman
Date posted:
December 18, 2015
Publication type:

EMBO Rep 2015;e201541674

Wiley Blackwell
Available on publisher website
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During the past few years, there has been substantial debate concerning the risks and benefits of certain experiments with pathogens—initially motivated by two publications in 2012 that described laboratory efforts to enhance the mammalian transmissibility of the avian H5N1 influenza virus. One of these two reports was particularly noteworthy because the experiments were designed to yield new viruses with a set of properties that together might confer pandemic potential, such as high transmissibility, high pathogenicity, and resistance to commonly available countermeasures. Not all research on pathogens generates such concerns; in fact, it is only a rare experiment that might lead to the creation of a novel pathogen with pandemic potential (PPP). The term “gain?of?function” has also been used to describe this realm of research, but it refers to a much broader range of widely accepted non?controversial research techniques and goals. For that reason, we think it should not be used in this discussion and refer to this work with the more precise term of PPP.



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