New York Times,
By Donald G. McNeil Jr.
Oct. 17, 2014
The White House announced Friday that it would temporarily halt all new funding for experiments that seek to study certain infectious agents by making them more dangerous.
It also encouraged scientists involved in such research on the influenza, SARS and MERS viruses to voluntarily pause their work while its risks were reassessed.
Opponents of this type of research, called gain of function — for example, attempts to create a more contagious version of the lethal H5N1 avian influenza to learn which mutations made it that way — were elated.
The moratorium is only on research on influenza virus and the coronaviruses that cause SARS and MERS. It made no mention of Ebola or any related filovirus. Ebola is already extremely lethal, but it is not easily transmissible.
No scientist has publicly announced an attempt to make Ebola as easy to transmit with a sneeze as flu is. Given the current panic around Ebola, and congressional anger at federal health agencies, it is unlikely that federal funding for such a project would be given out.
The debate over the wisdom of “gain of function” research erupted in 2011 when the labs of Ron Fouchier of Erasmus University in the Netherlands, and Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, separately announced that they had succeeded in making the lethal H5N1 avian flu easily transmissible between ferrets, which are a model for human susceptibility to flu.