A great piece by NPR. UNC (woohoo Tarheels!) researcher Ralph Baric had been investigating MERS (Middle East Respiratory Virus) until a recent government moratorium halting that kind of research.
If this virus mutates so that it spreads easily through the air, millions could die. “It would go around the globe quickly, and this would result in high morbidity and mortality, disruption of the economy, and, in some cases, the collapse of governments,” says Baric.
That’s why researchers want to learn as much as they can about MERS. It’s a type of virus called a coronavirus, which is the special focus of Baric’s lab.
However, a recent decision from the Obama administration has decided to stop govt-funded research on this virus, and also on influenza and SARS.
The Obama administration was concerned about any research that could make the viruses more dangerous, so they wanted to stop and review studies to see if they could make these germs capable of causing more disease or spreading easily through the air.
“I don’t think it’s wise or appropriate for us to create large risks that don’t already exist,” saysDavid Relman, a microbiologist at Stanford University.
Ad for for Baric,
Asked if his lab is creating any new forms of these viruses that would be more dangerous for people, Baric replied: “Absolutely not. And we do more genetics in than probably anyone else in the world.”
He says he may not ultimately agree with whatever guidelines are put in place, but “if that’s what it takes to continue the research, then that’s what we’ll do. Ultimately we are responsive to the public.”
What do YOU think? Is this type of research too dangerous? Is the moratorium a good idea? Or is the government overstepping its bounds? Participate in the poll, and let us know!