The National Academies

The National Academies: What You Need To Know About Infectious Disease

What You Need To Know About Infectious Disease

Potential Risks and Benefits of Gain-of-Function Research: Summary of a Workshop (2015)

On October 17, 2014, spurred by incidents at U.S. government laboratories that raised serious biosafety concerns, the United States government launched a one-year deliberative process to address the continuing controversy surrounding so-called "gain-of-function" (GOF) research on respiratory pathogens with pandemic potential. The gain of function controversy began in late 2011 with the question of whether to publish the results of two experiments involving H5N1 avian influenza and continued to focus on certain research with highly pathogenic avian influenza over the next three years. The heart of the U.S. process is an evaluation of the potential risks and benefits of certain types of GOF experiments with influenza, SARS, and MERS viruses that would inform the development and adoption of a new U.S. Government policy governing the funding and conduct of GOF research.

Potential Risks and Benefits of Gain-of-Function Research is the summary of a two-day public symposia on GOF research. Convened in December 2014 by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, the main focus of this event was to discuss principles important for, and key considerations in, the design of risk and benefit assessments of GOF research. Participants examined the underlying scientific and technical questions that are the source of current discussion and debate over GOF research involving pathogens with pandemic potential. This report is a record of the presentations and discussion of the meeting.

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What do you know about infectious disease?

True or False: Not all microbes are harmful to humans.

  • Correct!

    Not all microbes are harmful to humans. In fact, many of them protect us, helping our bodies function properly and competing with harmful organisms in an eternal contest for habitable space in or on our bodies. Although the microorganisms that cause disease often receive more attention, most microorganisms do not cause illness.

  • Sorry, that’s incorrect.

    Not all microbes are harmful to humans. In fact, many of them protect us, helping our bodies function properly and competing with harmful organisms in an eternal contest for habitable space in or on our bodies. Although the microorganisms that cause disease often receive more attention, most microorganisms do not cause illness.