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Gain-of-function experiments: time for a real debate

Nature Reviews Microbiology volume 13, pages 5864 (2015) | Download Citation


According to the WHO, dual use research of concern (DURC) is “life sciences research that is intended for benefit, but which might easily be misapplied to do harm”. Recent studies, particularly those on influenza viruses, have led to renewed attention on DURC, as there is an ongoing debate over whether the benefits of gain-of-function (GOF) experiments that result in an increase in the transmission and/or pathogenicity of potential pandemic pathogens (PPPs) are outweighed by concerns over biosecurity and biosafety. In this Viewpoint article, proponents and opponents of GOF experiments discuss the benefits and risks associated with these studies, as well as the implications of the current debate for the scientific community and the general public, and suggest how the current discussion should move forward.

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Author information


  1. Boston University School of Medicine and the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL), Boston, Massachusetts 02118, USA.

    • W. Paul Duprex
  2. Department of Viroscience of Erasmus MC Rotterdam, 3015 GE Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

    • Ron A. M. Fouchier
  3. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA.

    • Michael J. Imperiale
  4. Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, Department of Epidemiology and Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA.

    • Marc Lipsitch
  5. Departments of Medicine, and of Microbiology and Immunology, and the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, California 94305, USA; and at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, Palo Alto, California 94304, USA.

    • David A. Relman


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Competing interests

W.P.D., M.J.I. and D.A.R. declare no competing interests. R.A.M.F. receives research support for gain-of-function research from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the European Union. M.L. receives research funding for pneumococcal vaccine modelling projects from PATH Vaccine Solutions and Pfizer.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to W. Paul Duprex or Ron A. M. Fouchier or Michael J. Imperiale or Marc Lipsitch or David A. Relman.

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