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Dr. Jonathan Latham makes it stunningly clear in his interview with Jeffrey Smith that the type of research called “Gain of Function” can lead to global disasters.
Scientists actually enhance pathogens so they can either infect more easily or create more damage once they infect. If some of these SUPER pathogens escaped, the impact could devastate the population.
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Notes for this week's Podcast
This week's Transcript
Speaker 2: (00:08)
Hi everyone. My name is Jeffrey Smith and I have Dr. Jonathan Latham, who I have known for, I don't know, 15, 20 years. And Jonathan, you are, um, you are a former genetic engineer. You are a virologist and you have been, uh, running, editing and publishing independent science news, which I love that name, independent science news. And we're going to talk about something which a lot of people want to hear about gain of function, research, gain of function research. If you don't know, I'm going to say this research could kill billions. I'll just say it there so that you stay listening. If you're just joining, wondering if you want to listen, it could kill billions, no exaggeration. I will now turn it over to you, Jonathan, by asking you what is gain of function research and why are they doing
Speaker 3: (01:12)
So, you know, the simple definitions of gain of function research, uh, you take a pathogen and you try to enhance it, right? And you try to enhance it normally for some kind of medical research, uh, application, right? You want to make something to test the vaccine. You want to make something to test a scientific hypothesis. And so you alter a pathogen to give it more functions, to make it more infectious, for example. So it would, in fact, more organisms per unit of pathogen apply, oh, you try to make it more infectious or more pathogenic. So it causes more harm to the organisms that it infects. So that is the basic, but there's been many, many complications of this that presume you will get into, for example, a gain of function research. It has a big set of military or potential military applications, but it's a lot of research.
Speaker 3: (02:18)
Uh, and this field overlaps is funded by the military and overlaps with military interests, right? Defense interests, which are sometimes offensive interest too. So, um, but that is the kind of big picture here is it's difficult to separate out military and medical applications and it covers a lot of different organisms, but the main organisms that I've, it's usually considered to cover, uh, viruses. And the reason why it is considered to cover viruses is because fire says how to defend against right? Almost every bacterium can be treated with an antibiotic. Almost every fungus can be treated with some kind of fungicide. We have defenses against those organisms, even bacteria. If you get infected by bacteria, you can use hot water temperature to defend yourself against that bacteria. But viruses are really hard to defend against some viruses. There's no vaccine like HIV, for example, and some viruses, there are vaccines that don't work very well, but even a vaccine doesn't defend you once you've been infected, for example. So we have various, uh, antiviral agents, uh, that can help you a little bit maybe in the case of a viral infection, but usually they're pretty ineffective and many viruses have no, you know, we have no treatment for those. So viruses are the number one cause of concern.
Speaker 2: (03:51)
So you're in the film, don't let the gene out of the bottle. And we talk about one particular gain of function research that is mind boggling and jaw-dropping that caused changes in the U S government policy. Before we get to that though, tell us why what's the justification among those doing the research? What exactly will they learn? Let's talk about the medical side. What will they learn? That's so valuable that they can risk a release, an accidental release that can cause a global health catastrophe.
Speaker 3: (04:31)
So one of the main, uh, offense considered to be, uh, considered for this research by the people who advocate it is that we can predict pandemics, right? We can take viruses like stars or viruses like Bola, and we can do tests on them. We can take in a kite them from the wild, or we can do tasks on existing strains and make guesses as to which species I will. In fact how, uh, how often they will do that, where viruses might come from, for example, you know, we can potentially find out that viruses in some parts of the world are more likely to infect humans than other kinds. For example, in the case of SARS, one, for example, the size one virus is considered to have come from a cave and unit. And that cave basically harvest a set of, uh, SAS type Corona viruses that are capable of infecting humans most, uh, but viruses, but coronaviruses are not capable of infecting humans.
Speaker 3: (05:45)
If you put them into a human or a gentleman's or human, they basically don't bind to receptors and the infection goes nowhere. But what research has found was in a particular cave in unit, there are a set of biases that can affect humans and which resembled the sauce one virus. And what that means is that that virus came from that cave and that you should stay out of that cave and keep people away from that cave. You know, so this is the kind of benefit that people in visit, uh, resulting from this research, but that, that research requires that you go and sample those viruses and expose yourself to them in the first place. Right? So this is the conundrum in many ways, you know, writ large is that in order to protect yourself, someone has to go into that cave and collect those viruses and sequence them and sample them and do tasks on them to see if they infect humans as to that means human cells, right? Normally, I mean, you can, you can, uh, you can do experiments on primates. You can do experiments on rats and mice and so forth with these viruses, but they don't necessarily answer the questions that you really need answering, you know, do these viruses for example. And so that is a whole class of experiments that in principle could protect us against, uh, future pandemics,
Speaker 2: (07:10)
But it's not just identifying which ones out there are able to infect humans because it's gain of function. Once they get them into the experimental lab, don't they increase either those two things you described its ability to infect and its ability to do in debt to do damage once it infects.
Speaker 3: (07:34)
So, so this is, this is part of the thing, right, is that many viruses out there do not have that ability to directly in fact humans, but we suspect that they have something close to it or they might evolve something close to it. And so the test then becomes, you know, can you alter this virus in some kind of a way in which to show how it might become more infectious? So for example, we have, uh, we have viruses fall into sort of two broad categories. If you like, you want to make a giant generalization here. There are the ones that, uh, incredibly dangerous, like Zaja abode, Lavarus kills between 70 and 90% of all the people that in fact, but it's hard to catch Zaja Boulevard. So you have to have contact with bodily fluids. So these viruses are incredibly dangerous, but it's easy to not be infected by them because you could just avoid the bodily fluids of people who are infected.
Speaker 3: (08:41)
And normally, you know who they are because that Barry's sick. So, so you've got those kinds of viruses, but of course, those kinds of kinds of viruses could become more infectious by, they could become aerosols. They could become infectious through lungs and so on and so forth. So researchers claim, they want to know whether that's likely to happen with a Burleigh virus and some people want to make such viruses and make an aerosolized Ebola virus. So we know how to defend against it. Right? And that's one of the, one of the examples of proposed experiments. The other class of viruses are things like Corona viruses that are very infectious. You know, they circulate in the population. It's very easy to catch them. We gave them every winter, we got them multiple times over our lives, but for the most part, they don't do much harm, but of course, sometimes so coronavirus has come along.
Speaker 3: (09:35)
The likes are sort of like MAs that, uh, uh, much more dangerous than the normal common Ogaden kinds. And so, so these are the easy come easy go viruses that occasionally mutate into the very dangerous, right. They cross over into that territory. And so, so these are the two kinds of viruses and, you know, in a big picture way that that we have to deal with, uh, if we, you know, come in contact with the natural world, if we, uh, touch bats, if we clear the rainforests, if we, if we do intensive animal farming, these are the viruses that we're going to come in contact with. And so the question for gaining a function, researchers, the way they like to frame things is, you know, these easy come easy go virus is how bad could they get? And these, these very, very dangerous viruses that are hard to contact, how could they evolve to become, uh, as super spread as I feel like.
Speaker 2: (10:35)
So you mentioned two different things and pulling apart what you said in terms of the actual practical claim. The benefits one is if you know that a virus needs only a certain number of changes in its genetic code in order to become dangerous, then you can use that information for surveillance to see if that is happening. And the second is you talked about in the case of the Ebola, if you have, if something does evolve and become crazily dangerous, what can you do to protect yourself or to treat or prevent the spread? So one is surveillance of naturally evolving viruses and the other is dealing with it through prevention or treatment. Now let's take them one at a time. And does it really work? Does the gain of function research, which risks the release of an airborne Ebola, for example, that could be devastating to huge populations, does it, or does it do any of these things actually translate into let's talk about the surveillance versus are people now setting up surveillance and catching pandemics pathogens before and doing something appropriate with them to protect us? Let's start with that.
Speaker 3: (12:03)
So there are projects ongoing that are basically and intended to collect viruses from the wild and test, whether they have pandemic potential is the word phrase that people like to use. So they've been ongoing and growing over the last 15 or 20 years. And the, so the trend has been to give this available money to it, to, to get more researchers involved in it. And, um, and there are proposals, for example, there's a thing called the global virome project that is intended to COVID millions of viruses from thousands of species, and basically spend billions and billions of dollars doing this in order to basically, uh, you know, test all the bats, test the rodents, test, the small, all the other small mammals, uh, and other potential sources of these viruses and to go to developing countries, to go to wild areas and basically create a huge library of field of potential pathogens and bring them into labs and sequence them, study them and so on and so forth.
Speaker 3: (13:23)
And so this is a growing field of research, but, uh, you know, the problems that I've alluded to that in order to, to do this kind of research, you expose yourself to harm. And, uh, if you don't do this research super carefully, you, uh, you may set off, uh, a pandemic, right? Well, you know, one of our concerns about the sounds to pandemic is a jumped into a researcher who was sampling, who came from the [inaudible] Institute of viral at the moment. This is a hypothesis, but, uh, more and more allowed escape looks like the, the likely explanation of that. So, so on what the, they were one of the centers of doing this kind of research. So just leaving that aside for a minute, they, the, the question that you asked really as about whether it works, right, if you, if you take a virus from the wild and you can show that it might become a potential pandemic pathogen, does that mean that, that you have successfully predicted the likely source of these, uh, of pandemic pathogens in that area or from that species or in that kind of virus?
Speaker 3: (14:38)
And the existing research that we have is that in many, many cases, uh, mutations that can turn a certain strain of virus. And, uh, well, it looks like a more dangerous pathogen have completely different effects on different strengths, right? So the premise of this research is basically that, you know, that there are movies by the information gleaned on one virus collected from one town or one place or one country location or whatever can kind of predict the, what will happen with other viruses. You know, w we presume a pandemic won't actually result from that specific virus is likely to happen from a somewhat related virus, you know, maybe a different species or a different strain or a different genus. And the question for these pandemic researchers, you know, trying to predict, uh, pathogenic outbreaks is whether the research on one strain, you can't resize every strain, right?
Speaker 3: (15:47)
You have to pick and choose the strains. You're going to research on whether that research carries over to other strains, other geniuses, other species. And for the most part, it seems not to, right, but they ignore all that. They just say, we've identified pathogenic strains. And, uh, and this is, you know, these, uh, these are useful results that we can extrapolate to other species, other strains and so on and so forth. But at the moment, the bulk of research implies to me, at least that that kind of extrapolation is not possible, but if that kind of extrapolation is not possible, then there's research is, is borderline useless, but it all really rests on that premise. And that premise is at best a faulty and potentially completely wrong. And so, so we have, uh, an issue, um, yeah, that, you know, there's a fundamental difference of opinion and the viral as the community about the usefulness of this research.
Speaker 3: (16:54)
So there's a significant body of biology. So it's the ones who are less conflicted. I would have to say, who are basically opposed to this kind of research. And then there's a whole body, the majority of viral who are either comfortable with this research or actually doing it themselves and who are seemingly not concerned about it. And, uh, and that they're happy, you know, so far as I can see, they're just happy to take the money. That's really what's going on here. And so if they, you know, they make a case to policy makers to do this kind of research and, and the thing that, that skews all this is the military angle, right? So, so on the one hand, these, these researchers, um, applying for funding from medical research sources from us aid sources from, uh, various non-military institutions, and they have kind of a mixed interest in funding, this research, they have many other priorities, but the issue is that the military has this bottomless pit of money that it would like to spend on research on research that is nominally for civilian benefit, but which actually coalesces quite nicely with that concerns about the safety of the military forces.
Speaker 3: (18:26)
If I happen to have to go to Africa or happen to have to go to Asia and so on and so forth, but also it's perfectly clear that they would also like to potentially use these, uh, these enhanced pathogens and, uh, um, in the military resource, right, as basically offensive weapons, which are illegal. But, but the problem is that is perfectly clear that some of these military interest, uh, military preferences, I feel like are alive and kicking in, in various branches of the U S military, you know, multiple branch, you know, the air force has its own research program and the, and the land forces in the U S have their own research programs. So like, it's not like there's some kind of secret, they have a hidden away part of the military, that's doing this, and it's fairly open. You know, you have Fort Dietrich and Maryland, it's an enormous facility, and it's actively researching many of these, uh, many of these pathogens.
Speaker 3: (19:33)
And so, so what, what that money from the military does is kind of skewed the whole agenda of the, of the research, because not only do you have military people who, who, you know, wouldn't like the U S to be the first people to develop, aerosolize the bowler and, and hyper dangerous flu viruses and so on and so forth, but also if they can muddy the waters. So it appears as, uh, uh, uh, uh, what's being funded as civilian research when it really has a military interest for them. It's kind of like the adjuncts for peace project, right? It's like, it's like, if you can, if you can show that that nuclear power has peaceful uses, then the objections to its military uses, uh, diminished and confused and muddy, and it's the same thing going on with these potential pandemic pathogens.
Speaker 2: (20:31)
All right. So I want to make sure that I'm following completely in the case of using the evaluation of mutations of a particular strain as a method of predicting outbreaks of similar strains, you're saying it is nearly or possibly useless because the information you gain in a laboratory on one strain doesn't necessarily have any predictive value in the real world. Now, have they ever used a gain of function research to accurately predict, predict, and prevent a pandemic in history? And I'm curious about how they would prevent it if they knew that it's already been mutated, what could they do to prevent it? Go ahead.
Speaker 3: (21:26)
Yeah. I do not believe that anybody has ever claimed to have prevented a pandemic right now. I, I'm not aware of any, any example. And if the people themselves had prevented a pandemic, they would surely let us know about it. But, uh, so I don't think, uh, that that claim can be mad.
Speaker 2: (21:46)
Well then if, if surveillance is difficult or non-useful the other one is to prepare in case that particular strain turns out. Now we know that that particular strain that may have nothing to do with the real world strain. But the question is what if they're trying to treat, uh, create treatment programs or vaccination programs from their gain of function pathogens that is, I understand a justification for it. Is that something that has worked? Is it theoretically possible? Is it practical? And is it functioning?
Speaker 3: (22:33)
Yeah, it's a little bit of a difficult question to answer. I mean, it's, it's certainly, certainly you're correct. That gain of function type resets is used, for example, to try to make vaccines and to try to test vaccines. So for example, uh, before the current SARS coronavirus outbreak, uh, people were trying to generate, for example, Penn Corona virus vaccine. So, so the idea would be that you mix and match parts of Corona viruses, and then those that, that mixed up Corona virus, you know, cut and pasted coronavirus physically can be, can be used to anticipate usually about two ways of anticipating, uh, uh, uh, your vaccine needs, right? So you either, you can predict the virus, that's going to break out and make a vaccine ahead of time that corresponds to those sequences, and therefore will defend you against that. That, that is one strategy that was, you know, talked about at least, but the other is to make a pan coronavirus vaccine and make that vaccine effective against those such a range that no matter what have the gym breaks out, you have a defense against it.
Speaker 3: (23:51)
And the problem with that strategy as it applies, for example, to Corona viruses, is that prior to the current outbreak, there was no Corona virus vaccine right now, even though people were talking about making such things and considering making them there was nothing on the market or even close to on the market, uh, that has been shown to be effective and so on and so on. So they were experimental versions, but the reality was nothing. You could argue that previous research and to making vaccines helped with the generation of the, the, uh, Pfizer vaccine and the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. You can, you kind of thing, you can make some kind of arguments around that, but, uh, but it is, you know, w we have, you know, if you trust the data that that's being presented in the scientific journals, we, you have a vaccine that's fairly effective and, uh, hopefully will be of benefit in the long term, but, you know, I'm not a vaccine researcher, so I don't want to go too far in that direction, but, but that is th this is the thing, right?
Speaker 3: (25:08)
So in order to use these vaccines, firstly, you know, one strategy is basically to create a live attenuated viruses. So you have to attenuate a virus in order to, and then you, for example, with polio virus, that the, the way that you make a vaccine in many, in many instances, as you tried to, you basically give people an attenuated virus. And this is what, you know, the blow back of course is that sometimes those viruses fix themselves, right? So we have a problem at the moment with the polio eradication programs is that most people in the world who have polio virus today, have it because attenuated strains, mutated. And so,
Speaker 2: (25:53)
So let's just make sure that the jargon is up clear. Attenuated is disabled, the bed that they are not considered infectious agents. And then what happened was you disabled it and you said, good you're disabled. And somehow there was a stowaway or somehow there was a, there was an ex, there was some kind of mutation and boom, what you thought was disabled is now a live virus that gave people polio. Okay. So to come back to the gain of function though, um, let's say I'm a scientist and say, well, we, we needed gain of function research in order to prepare all of these vaccines and to understand vaccines well enough to be able to respond quickly. Is that really true? Hey, are there ways to prepare vaccines without creating the super pathogens so that you don't have to have the risk, but you can have the benefit.
Speaker 3: (26:57)
So some vaccines, for example, uh, constructed from small parts of viruses. So, so if you look at the Pfizer vaccine, it is a spike protein that is being administered, right? It's the RNA to be technically correct. The RNA, that codes for a spike protein that's being administered to people. So that does not require a live virus. And, uh, and there was no suppose I said there was no gain of function research that directly led to the development of that vaccine. So, uh, and it seems to be more effective than the Johnson and Johnson vaccine,
Speaker 2: (27:38)
No, get into the vaccine versus vaccine question, but we'll never survive on Facebook if we do. And I also don't want to, this is not the focus of our discussion to discuss the relative merits of, of that. Um, it's to discuss gain of function. I appreciate the use of relevant, modern examples. I'm just concerned about the automatic monitoring systems that are looking for words that are being set out of your mouth. So on that basis continued Jonathan.
Speaker 3: (28:11)
So then I think the broader question, right, that should be asked is, um, the, you know, the, the gain of function debate is normally framed along the lines of, uh, no gain of function and researchers who want to do this experiment to do the test, this certain hypothesis about whether a virus is capable of it. For example, of infecting human styles, the, the, the arguments that normally revolve around, you know, can this hypothesis be tested without a live virus and so on and so forth? And the answer is normally going to be, because the question was framed by the gain of function, people in the first place, normally any substitute experiment is going to be inferior, but, but the problem is did you need to be doing that kind of experiment in the first place, right. Is that really what you want to know? And we have, you know, the classic example of all this is, uh, if we want to prevent pandemics, right?
Speaker 3: (29:15)
If the goal, the goal of vaccine is prevent pandemic, goal of prediction is to prevent pandemics. Well, there are other ways of predicting, uh, preventing, rather pandemics, right? You can supply, you're going to have a good supply of Mohs on hand. You can have, well doctors trained better to defend against, uh, um, pandemic outbreaks. You can have better surveillance systems among people, right? Like you can, we can have systems for testing when work has on farms, uh, con contract flu, avian flu, for example, from birds. Whereas at the moment what we do is we send poly, pay people to work on farms, and then we don't do anything to monitor that house. So, so, so we have multiple, multiple ways of protecting against pandemics that don't involve high-tech research. They could just involve having more mass having, you know, having a better educated population, having better surveillance systems.
Speaker 3: (30:19)
There are many, many options that don't require a gain of function research to defend against, but also they don't require a prediction of what is the pathogen, right. Mass good against any aerosolized pathogen. Uh, so yeah, having a good understanding among doctors, uh, having surveillance systems, uh, for workers, for doctors, you know, doctors would be a great body of, uh, researchers. They have some of the first people who contacted contracted the sales to virus and we're, and we've had, for example, there was some of the first people who died if we monitor the adopters better. If we, if we took these precautions that a pretty common sense to call things and not necessarily very expensive, if we did these things, we could, uh, we could protect against pathogens regardless of what they were without the requirement for all these complicated and, and, uh, kind of reductionistic prediction systems.
Speaker 3: (31:22)
So, so we have, you know, so the question often is, do we want to frame the question in the way that it's framed by the gain of function researchers? Or do we want to frame the question very differently? Because for example, if we have a military that has this interest, so we have a medical profession that has this interest of what pathogens to defend against, but if we had a good supply of Mohs on hands, then we would, uh, then, then those masks are useful in a war or in, uh, in this time the totally, uh, dual, dual use technology. And, and so, so we have answers to many of these questions that don't get explored because there's not the money in MAs. So there is in vaccines, for example, this is what it comes down to.
Speaker 2: (32:11)
Did you know that you and I have seen this type of narrow reductionistic thinking and a careful framing of the question in ways that force, uh, predictable responses last night, I interviewed two leaders in the fight against golden rice. And this whole thing is like, if someone says, well, if you're trying to get a, um, vitamin a, into a particular staple, that people are already eating dot, dot dot, and he's like, no, what if you're just trying to PR to PR to give people vitamin a, there's a lot more things that are not risky, et cetera. Now, speaking of the risks. Okay. So let me just catch up and make sure that I understand the concept that gain a function can be used for proper surveillance. Isn't really very useful because the actual is not often the theoretical, the incremental knowledge of gain that we gain from gain of function to produce vaccines may have some benefit in our general understanding of producing vaccines, but in the context of other things we can do may be very incremental in terms of its its benefit and maybe much less than the other pieces of the puzzle is this right so far.
Speaker 2: (33:36)
Okay. So then even if gain a function were to give some slight advantage in the preparation of creating, understanding how vaccines can work, let's say maybe it does, or maybe it hasn't yet, but it could, the question is what are the risks against that benefit? What, what could go wrong? Can we trust these high security Biolabs with people in spacesuits operating, you know, with gloves inside chambers, they have very supposedly very secure protocols, so what could go wrong? And I kind of know some of the answers already, but I'd like to hear it from you.
Speaker 3: (34:26)
Well, we can, we can provide a long list of examples and, and, you know, there's a little bit of a danger. I realized, you know, discussing this. I can discuss some very specific examples, which will lead people to think that those are the only examples, or I can wave my hands and say, there've been many, many examples, uh, throughout history, from different countries using from different pathogens, from different species, from different, uh, kinds of labs, you know, military labs, civilian labs. And, uh, and then people will want to know, well, what are the specifics? And so, so, uh, you know, I wanted to just start off with that big framing is that the, the list of outbreaks that led to, to actual, uh, global pandemics is, uh, short but clear the, the number of, uh, pathogens that have broken out and caused near misses as long, the number of pathogens that have, um, that have, that have, uh, causing, given physically near misses in terms of, you know, there an escape or an accident or a major mishap.
Speaker 3: (35:41)
And, but it didn't lead to the infection of anyone that is also long. And then the whole other part of this, uh, scenario is out of all these, a long history of this possible near mishaps and actual mishaps is also the fact that, uh, most mishaps probably go unreported because they are undetected, right? So, so only if you're monitoring your staff, for example, for them becoming infected with the pathogen and you're monitoring is actually successful, uh, will you actually detect outbreaks? So maybe the monitoring, uh, should have been applied to that families, or maybe the outbreak reached, uh, you know, the external world from your super high security lab, but no one actually found out about it or there was no, um, there was no follow up. So you've got this whole kind of, you know, the, we know that the reporting of these outbreaks and potential mishaps is very faulty and there's no incentive for a lab to report stuff that they would rather not people not know about.
Speaker 3: (36:57)
So when going to start with H one N one, right? So H one N one is an escape of a wild type virus from a lab that basically spread to become a global pandemic. So H one N one was released from a lab, escaped from a lab in 1977. And, uh, it is basically a flu virus that I caught when I was, uh, 11 years old. Right. So I was born in 1966. I was one of the people who under 20, who basically did not have any protection, uh, immune protection against this virus. So basically this is a virus that, that caused our school to close. Uh, and when, so we basically were sent home because we caught this, uh, very, very contagious flu virus when I was 11 years old. And, uh, and this virus, it turns out, I only was really nailed down about 10 years ago, actually originated from, uh, a lab on the, somewhere on the border of China and Russia.
Speaker 3: (38:05)
It's not entirely clear where it came from, but it's very clear that from the sequence of this virus. So it was basically a fossil virus that presumably been stored in a freezer, was taken out of the freezer, uh, probably to make a vaccine. And that virus escaped. And it was pathogenic because the, the, the diet out in the 1950s, H one N one. And so they stored it in the freezer and it died out because human population became immune to it. And so new strains of flu viruses evolved. And essentially that, that H one N one died out. But if, if you keep it in the freezer, and then you let it out up to 20 years as a Hughes naive population. And so that virus basically spread all over the world, and it was very, it was a nasty, nasty illness, but, uh, the reason why there was not mass deaths is because basically everybody who caught it was young and healthy because everyone who was under 20, that was the, the, the knife population, basically our teachers were immune to it.
Speaker 3: (39:13)
So, so this virus spread all over the world. And so many, many people who am I age have, uh, basically been exposed to, uh, to, uh, a pandemic pathogen to state from the lab. So, so these are real risks, right? These are not things that just happen, uh, in, in theory. So we have, uh, but then we have many, many other closets of, uh, accidental release from different kinds of, uh, Biolabs, right? We have examples of where the NIH or the CDC rather was mailing anthrax samples around the world, thinking that they were mailing attenuated, attenuated, and harmless strain of anthrax. And they sent hundreds of labs around the world, uh, fully virulent anthrax. And these labs, you know, I was sent through the mail and, and these labs had no idea that I receiving something that was basically lethal. So, so we got that class of accident where it's basically just a mistake by the research that, you know, something was allowed, the sample was labeled wrong, and then it was sent out.
Speaker 3: (40:20)
Then we have a whole class of, of ex of releases. The anthrax is a bacteria, and by the way, but, uh, we have a whole clause that really says, for example, the anthrax letter that was sent to members of Congress and members of the press, for example, and, uh, 2002, I think it was, uh, basically that, that went a long way to causing the Iraq war because essentially there's releases that they were, the letters were sent with, uh, you know, badly written apparently basically pretending to come from, from an, a semi literate Arabic person. And there's, uh, this, these samples were basically attributed to Iraq and it was assumed that it was a fire warfare attack, but really it was sent out by somebody from Fort Dietrich, basically a deranged researcher from Fort Dietrich sent us. They basically framed the Arab world and, and essentially led to an, this, you know, played a huge part in the panic that follow the 2000 and, uh, um, uh, attack on the twin towers.
Speaker 3: (41:37)
So you've got always in the lurking, in the background, the possibility that some crazy person may send, uh, may send out strains essentially deliberately for malicious reasons. You know, they had, they had shares in, uh, in the company that was attempting to sell the U S military a vaccine against anthrax. Right? So, so this person was basically presumably self-interested, but, you know, he committed suicide. And so we're not going to know this full story of all this. So, so you've got a whole range of different possibilities from, uh, you know, things leaking out. So a classic leaking out story is a foot and mouth disease in England. So Britain has a BSL four lab. Uh, Neocell four, just tell people what bill so far, but that is the most highest security type lab, which is basically designed to handle half the gens that, uh, what I call select agents of the highest category ESL stands for, uh, buyer's safety laboratory.
Speaker 3: (42:50)
Okay. So they've got their own fall level. So BSL two is basically been equated to dentist lab. You know, people wear masks and goggles, and that's probably at the BSL four lab is where people are wearing a positive pressure suits. So that, like, basically you've got a said, you're separate from the pathogen by a layer and, and a space suit. And they have, um, biocontainment facilities for like all the water that leaves the facility for all the athletes, that facility. So it's extremely high tech, but it's still a doubt in many people's minds as the way to all this high-tech stuff. Does it, it really is effective in containing pathogens because the problem with high-tech stuff is that, you know, when you're wearing a positive process suit, and you're trying to, to, um, uh, you're trying to handle a pathogen safely by moving it from cold to aids, a culture B is inhibitory, right?
Speaker 3: (43:57)
It doesn't actually help people to actually handle these pathogens. And it does nothing to, for example, to stop the mislabeling of tubes, right? There is no bio security lab in the world that can, that can solve that problem. And that the other issue with these BSL four fallouts is the whole principle of them is based on accountability and, uh, you know, careful documentation, you know, you have, you have, uh, in the Wu Han lab, they had surveillance cameras for the and forth so that people can see the accidents who have been, um, say what, what was going, you know, what mistakes might be made and, and have to have careful records. But of course, we now have the, the solves to outbreak and China will not release the records and the notebooks and so on and so forth from the BSL four lab. So the question is what used to all these things, if a country weren't actually released that,
Speaker 2: (44:59)
I understand that handling some of the work for an for gain of function involves animals, and that sometimes the animals will bite a worker or scratch or worker had infected.
Speaker 3: (45:14)
Yep. Yeah. This has happened many times. Yep. Yep. So we have, we have an example, you know, and North Carolina and not, so recently we wrote about an example of when this happened. So a researcher mouse infected with SARS to fit a researcher. And, uh, and then the question becomes, you know, who, who did what to, to contain the virus? Did they catch the, did they catch the infection? And we have the same accountability problem that I was in China is that no one would tell us whether the, whether the infected person became sick, for example. So, so even though we have, uh, we have in principle accountability in principle, we have a freedom of information act, uh, that would allow us to find out whether this person was infected in practice. Those systems didn't function. So we still don't know whether that person became infected so on the sandbox. So there's, there's the, the theater and the benefits of BSL four labs existed pot in people's heads.
Speaker 2: (46:17)
And of course you mentioned dual use dual users, military medical. So the dual use, if someone is doing military and enhancement of bio weapons is illegal. They're pursuing something that either is clearly illegal or gray area, then they're going to very specifically want to block reporting of problems and, and not let part of that documentation of the BL VSL four protocols go forward. Is that right? Yeah.
Speaker 3: (46:53)
Um, you, you, you totally have to worry about that. Yes. I mean, the, the problem, the problem with this is, you know, the problem with the system is you stated is that, you know, it's, um, the current understanding of how research is done, it's perfectly possible to enhance the Bola virus, for example, and simply claim that you're doing basic research and the military may, you may be doing something that was, uh, you know, funded through the military. That was a purely of interest to the military, so on and so forth. But if you just say that you're doing it for a peaceable reasons, the no one there's, no, there's no legal recourse, essentially. No one can say you're doing something illegal because your claim is, is it you're doing it. And it's plausible to an extent that you're doing it for civilian reasons to protect the public.
Speaker 2: (47:48)
So in, in the film, don't let the gene out of the bottle, which is available at protect nature. now.com. We talked about the H five N one avian flu, very hard to catch. You need to be around, uh, AVN livestock for a long period of time, uh, at these bird farms and less than a thousand people caught it at a certain point of time. And, but the death rate was originally described at 60% than at 52%, who knows what it actually was, but 52% is ridiculously high. And in two different labs, they worked with this H five N one and did something which sent shock waves around the world. And at least temporarily created new rules in the United States. Can you describe this because I want to be clear about the kind of risks that scientists are willing to take. And then we're going to talk about what would be a logical and intelligent policy from your perspective. So let's start with this H five N one alarm that went around the world.
Speaker 3: (48:59)
So, so, so this, this gets us into a question that we haven't covered, that we should, which is what is the technical research that is giving rise to these gain of function pathogens. Good. And the, the two, you know, Clint delay, distinct technical differences. Uh, one research has make a cut and pasted pathogen by the take apart of one pathogen, and then add it to another passage. You know, they replaced that, uh, part of that pathogen. So for example, you could, you know, we have saws one virus that is very, very lethal, but not very infectious. And we have sales too, which is very, very infectious, but not especially lethal. Uh, there are researchers who've taken the spike protein of sauce to, and given it to the spike, to the backbone of SARS one. And so that expectation was that they would make a virus that was super lethal and super infectious at the same time, right. Combined benefits of both viruses. So that experiment has been done. And the, so that is the cut and paste approach.
Speaker 2: (50:15)
That's genetic engineering
Speaker 3: (50:16)
That is traditional. I feel like genetic engineering is price. The other kind of enhancements that PayPal have people do. And that is normally included under descriptions of gain of function research. As you take a pathogen, especially one from a certain species, right? And the example that you're talking about is a bird fuller. You take a flu that is basically infectious in birds, but there's not. In fact, there's not probably in fact people when you take that, what does, what the run fish and has has exposed fellow experiments is basically dead, is they took a bud float and they gave it to theorists. So put it in a ferret. And what happens when you put it into a ferret, as the virus evolves to become more, a more of a ferret virus, and you can speed up this process. So it gives us prednisone, not a virus, a flu virus that belongs in birds, uh, takes many mutations, quite a few mutations to become fully infectious and active in mouse because of the genetic difference between those species.
Speaker 3: (51:28)
But what Fusha did, and his colleagues did is they did what they call what's called pathology. So pathology is basically when you put the virus into a ferret and before the virus dies out in the ferret to take a sample from that animal and then use that sample to effect the second parrot. And then before that fire dies out, they use it to infect the third parent before that sample, that they use it to impact the fourth bear. And by transferring it, and this calculated way, you can basically speed up evolution and create a pathogen that is now infectious in the new species. So in this case, they were taking something that was extremely dangerous to people, but actually not very easily transmitted between people. It couldn't be transmitted between people and they were putting into mammals and showing that eventually this virus is, uh, effective.
Speaker 3: (52:27)
Uh, basically life's life cycle in the Ferris became self-sustaining. After a few of these pass ologists, the viruses and able to translate it style between ferrets, because they did acquire the necessary mutations to infect ferrets. And so they had organized, you know, they knew what was going to happen when they, when they roughly at least what was going to happen when they, when they affected these parents over multiple generations. So, so this is called viral pathology, and it can be used to enhance what they were doing was enhancing the pathogenicity of this virus towards a certain group of species. I eat mammals. And so they were doing this to test the ideas about whether the virus could, could evolve one day to infect humans, for example, cause ferrets are considered to be a model species for infecting humans. So, um, and to me, I don't need to explain too much more for people to understand why this might be scary because you got an airborne virus, right?
Speaker 3: (53:37)
That is basically spreading between ferret cages and airborne viruses. Uh, one of the pathogens that have been flagged most obviously as being likely to escape from labs, right? If you work on Ebola virus and it requires bodily tissues to do in fact, the next organism, then the only way that you can do, you can, uh, you can acquire that Ebola virus, for example, is if somebody sticks himself with a needle, or if somebody actually, you know, somehow inhales or eats a piece of tissue culture, or if the tissue culture is fails to be disinfected when it exits the lab. And then in fact, uh, you know, a waterway or a, or a, or a, you know, a raft or something that's sniffling around in the, in the dumpster out back of the BSL four lab. And so, so, but this is something that not failure to decontaminate samples, there's an example of a common way that, uh, pathogens escape from that.
Speaker 3: (54:42)
Because basically if you fail to make up your decontamination solution properly, for example, you make it 10 times two week or something like that, what you, when you think you're, decontaminating the sample, and then you throw it into the trash or into the dumpster, and it's not been decontaminated, then it can infect organisms downstream. So this is what happened in the foot and mouth disease outbreak, by the way, in 2007 in Britain, there was basically an outflow from the BSL four lab that was supposed to be, uh, there was supposed to be secure and was basically contaminating drinking water. And then the drinking water was being used by cows downstream and they can track to the foot and mouth disease. So th the problem, you know, we go back to the problem with DSL. Paul laps is there's an infinite number of ways in which pathogens can escape from these labs. And so people are doing gain of function and research on those viruses. Then you have a recipe for disaster.
Speaker 2: (55:39)
So knowing that there was a up to 52% death rate in the eight page by van one, and that scientists gave a, made an airborne version that could get out and become a pandemic decimating, the human population. What was the response by scientists? What was the response by the us government, what happened? And then Lee let's lead into what you think would be a more, um, a better if possible policy and response by the world, because we want to get, cause our protect nature now campaign has the desire to have a very specific, restrictive, um, laws. So I wanted to get your impression on what those might be the first, describe what the H five N one alarm bell did in the world, uh, more than a decade of.
Speaker 3: (56:33)
Yeah. So, so, you know, initially there was concern in the media concern among a restricted group of scientists. I led to the formation of the Cambridge working group. For example, there was a concern, um, you know, in various quarters, but initially nothing happened. And there was a change of guard in the Obama administration. And those, the new people who came in were much more concerned about the risks of gain of function research, but they did not Institute a ban. They instituted a funding ban, right. Which is a different thing because it means that people can still do that research, uh, um, w with other people's money, but private money, for example. So, so it was not a full ban, but also the issue with the ban was that, uh, it all depends on your definitions of what is gain of function research. There were many elements and Tony faculties and, and I, I D funding agency that they had no enthusiasm for this band whatsoever
Speaker 2: (57:47)
Be cautious again, of the ability for, uh, our broadcast without being blacked out. Uh, so carry on.
Speaker 3: (57:57)
Well, I'm going to give you the straightest story that I can, and, and, you know, I'm just gonna, I'm gonna point out of it, something people were involved right. And I'll do my best. So the, uh, so essentially, you know, the, there became a question of how do you define, even though there was a ban of funding ban, uh, how does gain a function resize actually defined and what the research, what the, the NIH basically organized surreptitiously FLI was basically an end run around the band. So the research community was not behind the band basically at all. And so, so they just arranged things in certain ways with their definitions of the arrangements that, that committees on the staffing of the committees and so on and so forth to get around this ban. So it was basically ineffective. And so, so there was, um, so it was, so this, there are administrative difficulties with, uh, creating these bands.
Speaker 3: (59:06)
And I would, uh, you know, the, the question in many ways, there's, you know, you may want to ban, but how are you going to actually Institute to when, uh, the people who are actually in control of all the leavers and how's the expertise and so on and so forth, actually don't want that fast. They want to keep going with that business as you yourself, because business as usual brings in money from the military, from the pharmaceutical industry, from the vaccine industry, from the diagnostics industry and so on and so forth. So, so there's a powerful incentive not to have a bat because there's a business model behind.
Speaker 2: (59:47)
So then what would you do if you were in charge and let's put away for a second, the power of the opposition, let's just say, what do you think makes the most logical sense that should be the policy pursuit that we pursue globally?
Speaker 3: (01:00:07)
Um, I mean, I mean, you do have this issue, you know, you're bringing up the issue of global is, is partly if you have a national ban that doesn't necessarily stop the RESA, right. What's going on and was going on to the wound hand Institute of biology is that gain of function. Research has been carried out there with the assistance of us money. So us money was flowing to the Wu Han Institute of biology. So some people think that was also an Android around the ban in the U S the funding pause, because it wasn't really being described as gaining of function research. It was being described as other things. So, so because it's happening in China, there's not real accountability is happening abroad, and it's happening in the money is going into a nonprofit. And then a nonprofit is using that money to give to a, to a Chinese institution.
Speaker 3: (01:01:09)
And, you know, at that point that's accountability has pretty much vanished. So, so where there's quite a big conundrum here, right? So, so, so there is on the one hand, you need an international system, but also you need good national systems to, to, to, to, uh, inform, to reinforce if you like national, uh, national or international standards. So, you know, you, you, if the who, or the United nations can make any rules they want, but if countries don't, uh, follow them, it's difficult to get any enforcement through those systems because those systems can, uh, uh, prevail over, over national sovereignty. Right? So we, you know, the, the problem is how do you, how do you achieve accountability in a diverse world? So the, so the question is quite a difficult one. Do you want a band? Do you want a funding ban? Do you want it to be national?
Speaker 3: (01:02:13)
Do you want it to be international? So, so we have, uh, we have many, many obstacles to overcome, but what's really needed is to work away on all these fronts, right? So there needs to be people putting efforts into international bodies that can oversee this kind of research. And it requires the right people to be stuffing Doug's international bodies, right? You need people whose independence and expertise is clear to everyone, and you need similar people, uh, in, in one, you know, in the us. And then, and then, and now the countries where this kind of research goes on to, to also, uh, you know, to be the human factor, if you like in, and whatever is decided to be, to be done. So, so, and the question is, you know, how do you make decisions about what is gain of function, restarts, you know, one level, you have to decide that there are certain organisms, which it covers and certain organisms, presumably, which it doesn't cover.
Speaker 3: (01:03:18)
So, so you've got decisions to be made on that front. And then you've got decisions to be made about what is the goal of this research and whether it's likely to actually, you know, and do either deliberately make something that is falling dangerous or accidentally make something that's more dangerous. So you have, uh, the, you know, we've needed some system that protects against either one, right? So, so, you know, there are people who are deliberately adapting viruses to mammals like Ron Fisher, but then there are people who, uh, uh, you know, producing viruses that they don't know are in fact, you know, quite likely that the researchers who released the H one N one virus did not anticipate it will be as dangerous as it was. So, so you have accidents and you have deliberate all kind of, uh, which have to be dealt with under these, uh, under these systems.
Speaker 3: (01:04:16)
So maybe, maybe, you know, the first and most of the low hanging fruit, if you like, is deliberate creation of potential pandemic pathogens, right? So, so the th that is if somebody is deliberately and that is, I go attempting to make something that's more dangerous, then that's more easy to spot because it's there in the paperwork. If, if somebody is going to make a pandemic pathogen by accident, it's not in the paperwork, it requires expertise to actually predict that that is going to happen. And that will happen under conditions of scientific on Sunday, because quite likely the researcher who's doing the research cause considers that research to be homeless. So, so we have, uh, uh, formidable difficulties and, uh, and so, you know, I rather than make specific recommendations, it makes more sense to me as a viral. Yes. Cause that's, you know, my training to, to draw people's attention to the difficulties and the history of what happens last time round, because, uh, at least the, you know, the problem last time round is that it created a moral precedent for restrictions on this kind of research, right? The Obama administration funding restrictions created the right noise, but arguably they were not in the least bit effective, but, but at least we understand better now some of the difficulties. And so, so they'll make maybe a benefit, uh, historically from that example, but we will definitely need to do better because there's clear that, that, uh, there were many needs that were not met by that ban.
Speaker 2: (01:06:11)
That was a very excellent, comprehensive and well thought out response. Um, I'm not a virologist. Uh, the Institute for responsible technology has pioneered the protect nature now campaign. So just to share with the people listening, and please go to protect nature now.com. We have a, an, an advocacy platform where you can go there and send a white paper on gain of function, research, an article on gain of function, research, and executive summary of the white paper. And it's preloaded with all of your elected officials. You can hit them one single click, and they'll all get these. You can one single click and you'll send it to five members of the press in your area. And I just wanted to let you know, Jonathan and everyone listening, what our position is based on our research. We agree that the risks are too great for the touted benefits and that the touted benefits often are not realized in any case that there are alternatives for the research that give quite a bit of the information needed, but not enough money has been spent on it.
Speaker 2: (01:07:28)
And it's possible that the alternatives will give enhanced and comprehensive, uh, um, information that will render even the thought of getting a function, experiments, a non-starter we don't know, but based on the fact that there's been over a thousand reported lab accidents and probably many more non-reported ones, and that the accidents have included have been in, for example, the CDC anthrax facility and flu facility considered the highest BSL, uh, laboratory safety mechanisms in the world and they had to shut it down because of the problems. We don't think it's worth tempting fate. And so we are seeking a total ban on new function. We haven't defined it with the level of granularity that needs to happen, but we are seeking a total ban gain, total ban of gain of function internationally and domestically with teeth. And we don't have a mechanism out of deal at this point with the details of implementation, the compliance, the, uh, et cetera, but we want to drum up support with force to make that demand.
Speaker 2: (01:08:46)
And then the experts probably including you can, uh, work out the details. So it has the greatest possibility of protecting the greatest number of people. And I want you also to know that, um, for those listening, I have been, as you have noticed steering the conversation away from the specifics of the current outbreak, into the general gain of function question, the specifics of the current outbreak are highly controversial and have sides and charges and, and people who have dug in with specific positions. And I have no judgment about that. But what we are trying to do is to create global consensus and support consensus as much as possible, but global support for future bans on gain new function research, irrespective of the origins of the current outbreak, the origins of the current outbreak are being investigated and whether or not it becomes a or B.
Speaker 2: (01:09:55)
Everyone now knows that laboratory created pathogens, especially after hearing about H one N one from you, Jonathan, everyone knows that's a possibility. And since we've all just been through this global outbreak, we have now a greater receptivity and political will to implement lockdowns of such type of research than we've ever had in the history of this type of research. So you have been really helpful. Jonathan advancing my understanding and everyone's understanding we're going to post this interview, not only as a podcast and live healthy, be well.com. It'll also live on the Facebook page. We're going to put it in our library of assets where other interviews that I've done with you are there about, for example, CRISPR, gene editing, and other things. And we may call upon you from time to time to help us increase the capacity to reach the scientific community and the political community. Is there anything else you want to say, Jonathan, before we go and you have dinner?
Speaker 3: (01:10:59)
No, Joe, I mean, just to say, I read your white paper and I thought it was really good. You know, it covers pretty much all the basis and is very eloquent and clear. And so, uh, yeah, I really hope that your campaign or raising is successful because so many issues here that that need to be, to be discussed. And, and, uh, I really would like to see that move forward successfully.
Speaker 2: (01:11:25)
Thank you, Jonathan. And one more thing again, protect nature. Now go to the advocacy platform. If you haven't seen the film start there, don't let the gene out of the bottle. You'll see Jonathan and that film you'll hear about H five H five N one. You'll hear about some other microbes you'll hear about ending gain of function is just one of our two main goals. The other one is no outdoor release of any genetically modified microbes whatsoever because of its capacity to infiltrate and damage and even collapsed ecosystems around the world and even inside us. So we want to implement the full lessons of the pandemic, both inside the laboratory and outside. And then you have an opportunity to send this information to Congress, to wherever you are, parliamentarian centers, et cetera. And we'll be doing a repeated number of campaigns where you can a couple of minutes, you can click and send this important information. Jonathan, thank you for running independent science news. Where can people go to subscribe to your information? Where can people go to read some of the great writing that you and your partner have done?
Speaker 3: (01:12:34)
So well? The independent science news.org website is the best place to start. We have a bio-science resource.org, a website too, which is for our nonprofit or the independent science news is a place, but please do subscribe because, you know, we, we too have had pushback from Facebook and YouTube and some of these other outlets for the totally rigorous research that we put forward about, uh, some of the issues surrounding the pandemic. You know, that with the only potential potentially only way that people in future we'll be able to keep in touch with us is through our mailing list. And so it's essential that people subscribe. I know that you have some similar issues,
Speaker 2: (01:13:21)
Independent science news though. We we've been pretty good where we're staying clean of the, uh, of this, um, sensors. Let's see how we do in the future. Thank you everyone. Thank you for joining us. I'm afraid I don't have time to answer or comment on the comments you've made. Um, but we will have opportunities for interaction at some other point.
Speaker 3: (01:13:43)
Thank you, Jeffrey. Thank you, Jonathan.
Speaker 1: (01:13:47)
Speaker 4: (01:13:53)
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