137: Should scientists try to create dangerous viruses? (Marc Lipsitch)

June 28, 2015

A controversial field of research is “gain-of-function,” in which scientists take a virus (like a strain of flu) and attempt to make it more dangerous, for example by making it transmissible in mammals when it had previously been solely an avian flu. The motivation is to learn how viruses might mutate in nature so that we can be prepared — but what if those engineered “superbugs” escape the lab and start a pandemic? In this episode of Rationally Speaking, Harvard professor of epidemiology Marc Lipsitch argues that the risks outweigh the benefits, and that we should halt gain-of-function research as soon as possible.

Transcript (PDF)