What, Exactly, is Gain of Function in Virus Research?

So create something that doesn’t exist in nature and see if you can kill it. Steven Quay, MD, PhD

Until well into the Covid pandemic most people had never heard of “gain of function” research in viruses. Now, it seems everyone has at least a vague understanding of the term. The public knows it has something to do with making a natural virus more dangerous to humans in some way and that this may have played a role in the origin of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid or, as I personally prefer to call it, the Wuhan virus, for its origin in Wuhan, China. Since that seems offensive to some people, I will use the politically acceptable Covid.

Gain of function involves several things. It may involve one, several, or all of these. These include the following:

  1. Creation of a virus that does not exist in nature.
  2. Taking an existing virus and modifying it in several ways:
  3. Make it more transmissible to  humans, especially if from an animal source.
  4. Make it more infectious, i.e. easier to spread.
  5. Make it more virulent, i.e. deadly.
  6. Make it able to evade detection by our immune system.
  7. Make it able to spread without prelimimary symptoms, i.e. asymptomatic spread.

No’s. 6 and 7, are regarded by many countries, including the US as impermissable. Oddly, the others are not. I have seen this mentioned with references in the past, but my search for these sources has been a failure. I cannot but wonder if they were not taken down.

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