What is gain-of-function research in genetics?


Rumors persist that SARS-CoV-2 was accidentally leaked at an advanced biosafety lab in Wuhan, China. The claim is that the institute was conducting gain-of-function (GOF) research, which produced a potent version of the coronavirus that led to a pandemic.

This has led to some Skepticism and mistrust An overview of the field of study and whether experiments are to be carried out using GOF technology.

What are the benefits of functional research?

Basically, GOF research is used to learn how viruses acquire new functions through mutation and evolution.

Functions are only properties of living things, such as: plant It’s more forgiving Drought Or disease, or its enzyme Evolved To make our body work.

The languages ​​linked to GOF are loaded Negative implications Associate this study with a dangerous or dangerous study. However, like genetically engineered rhetoric, these links do not represent the diversity of the field or the safety precautions that govern research. However, at the heart of the research, as the name suggests.

GOF studies observe these mutations and investigate how specific stimuli affect the evolutionary changes and properties of viruses and organisms.

But in our current climate, as if it specifically indicates how the virus is changing to move more easily between humans, or how the virus is becoming more deadly. It is often spoken in a much narrower context. This does not give the full picture of GOF search.

What are the points of GOF research?

The virus is growing rapidly. Therefore, there are many new variants of SARS-CoV-2. GOF seeks to understand why and how these changes occur, as well as the environmental factors that can affect the process.

In a sense, it is an approach to know the enemy.

In addition to the benefits of basic biological research into the nature and evolution of viruses, GOF contributes to three distinct areas: pandemic preparedness, vaccine development, and identification of new or potential pathogens. ..

GOF research understands the rate at which mutations occur and the number of generations it takes for the virus to change in a way that requires special care in the community, which is information provided for epidemiological modeling. Useful for.

This GOF information can help predict, for example, that a virus may become an unpleasant variant in a particular population size or density, in a particular season or in a particular period or period. . It tells us how we are responding to the pandemic. In addition to that, it tells you how quickly the virus can mutate to defeat the vaccine and provides genetic information that can be useful in vaccine development. Specifically, GOF studies can accumulate potential vaccine candidates in an accessible database in the event of an epidemic due to a natural course.

In other words, it means that the development of a vaccine can be accelerated. Exponentially Because the candidate is already available..

For example report The 2015 GOF Risk Assessment Workshop for Professional Organizations revealed genomic information from GOF studies. This indicates that bat-borne coronaviruses such as SARS have many strains and mutations that have “potential pandemics that need to be treated.”

This information has led to the current pandemic response and vaccine development – the pandemic Already predicted Because we have a full understanding of how the coronavirus has evolved.

In another example, GOF Experience For influenza, we have shown that the virus can be transmitted between different mammals with only minor changes in the genetic code. Seasonal flu shot..

What is the science behind the research on gain of function?

GOF research is based on observed evolution and changes in DNA. RNA..

The genome is the sum of all the genetic information of an organism. Part of this DNA or RNA is made up of genes and often contains information about how proteins are made. These proteins are used to make everything work in our body.

These genes can change spontaneously from generation to generation. This is because the parent’s DNA must be replicated in order to replicate. The mechanism for doing this is not perfect, so you make few mistakes when copying DNA.

In most cases, the changes are negligible. Only one unit of DNA (called a nucleotide) can be changed and may not affect the protein produced. In addition, small changes in a single nucleotide can allow a gene to acquire a whole new function, which can be beneficial for the body.

The spontaneous mutations that occur during reproduction are an example of real evolution.

Since these changes occur from generation to generation, fast reproducing organisms such as flies can also evolve rapidly as a species.

This process takes place essentially the same way as a virus, except that the virus has RNA rather than DNA and reproduces itself asexually. They still make proteins and still accumulate mutations, but the main difference is that they can replicate themselves. Very, very quickly – They can start to reproduce In a few hours “Born” – and evolving at a very fast pace.

This is why we have identified so many new variants of SARS-CoV-2 since early 2020. Every time the virus invades a new host, the virus quickly replicates and mutations occur. Over time, these mutations change the properties of the virus itself.

For example, new mutations can make the virus more toxic or make symptoms worse because the protein has changed its properties.

In these cases, the mutant strain has acquired function, which is the goal of GOF research.

What is happening in the virology lab?

Since the lab virus does not have a human host to spread to, researchers instead spread the virus in petri dishes and animals.

There are two ways to use GOF in your lab. One is to observe viral mutations alone (without intervention), and the other is to control small changes through genetic modification.

The first type of use puts the virus in different situations to see how it evolves without intervention or assistance.

This video is an example of a GOF study using bacteria (not a virus, but the method is similar). The researchers placed the bacteria in huge Petri dishes with different levels of antibiotics. They leave the bacteria and watch how they naturally evolve to overcome the antibiotics.

The new strain of bacteria Genetically sequenced To see what genetic changes made them resistant to antibiotics. This experiment can show how quickly bacteria evolve, when or how often the antibiotic is given, and at a sufficient concentration that can halt the rate at which the antibiotic is overcome by resistance. You can find out if you have antibiotics.

Similar experiments can be performed on the virus to see how the virus changes to overcome the protection of human antibodies and other immune systems.

Read more: What is happening in the virology lab?

The second type of use is due to small changes using genetic modification. This type of experiment is performed after a lot of other genetic information has already been collected to identify which nucleotides in viral RNA specifically contribute to new functions.

Once these are identified, changes of single or small nucleotides are made to the virus to confirm predictions obtained from genomic studies. Then place the modified virus in a Petri dish or insert it into an animal such as a rabbit or mouse to see how the changes affect the properties of the virus.

This type of research is conducted in specialized laboratories that are tightly controlled and strictly regulated by biosafety laws, including containment and decontamination processes.

Read more: HDoes Australia contain dangerous viruses?

Concerns about acquiring functional research.

As the benefits of GOF viral research focus on preparing for a pandemic, concerns have been raised about whether the research is ethical or safe.

AT Year 2005Researchers used this technique for viruses when reconstructing influenza (H1N1) from a sample taken in 1918. The goal was to learn more about the characteristics of influenza and future pandemics, because the flu is still circulating, but controversial studies have sparked a heated debate over whether the flu is widespread. It should be okay.

Two major concerns are whether it poses a threat to public health if the virus escapes from the lab, or whether the technology could be used for malicious purposes.

Over the past year, 16 years after the H1N1 study, there has been some debate as to whether SARS-CoV-2 was voluntary. Origin of zoonotic diseases, Or if it was’Created‘In the laboratory of the GOF experiment, and escaped.

So, 16 years after the first controversial H1N1 study, this speculation has put GOF studies back in the public eye and led to many. Critical Regulations in the field of study and in the laboratories that use this technology.

2017, US government Lifting of the ban About GOF pathogen research after the National Institutes of Health concluded that the risks of influenza and MERS research outweigh the benefits and pose a low threat to public health.

However, following concerns about the origin of SARS-CoV-2, the rules surrounding GOF research, risk assessment and experimental disclosure are now in place. In the study Again, to clarify the policy.

Read more: COVID Lab Leak Hypothesis: What Scientists Know and Don’t Know

Beyond that, speculation still sparked Contact us World Health Organization says virus escapes from lab Very unlikely..

Either way, it’s It’s not a bad thing New evidence available to examine biosecurity, biosecurity and transparency policies Frequent examinations Throughout history.

Scientists can maintain a ban on research deemed ethically irresponsible, including controversial, on fears that governments or private sectors may abuse science and technology for malicious purposes. I go.CRISPR baby..

Ultimately, the parameters of how and by whom a scientific method like GOF is used are not scientific questions, but must be resolved by ethicists.

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