Gain-of-function research

Adv Appl Microbiol. 2022:120:79-111. doi: 10.1016/bs.aambs.2022.06.002. Epub 2022 Jul 13.


The term Gain-of-Function (GoF) describes the gain of new functions by organisms through genetic changes, which can naturally occur or by experimental genetic modifications. Gain-of-Function research on viruses is enhancing transmissibility, virus replication, virulence, host range, immune evasion or drug and vaccine resistance to get insights into the viral mechanisms, to create and analyze animal models, to accelerate drug and vaccine development and to improve pandemic preparedness. A subset is the GoF research of concern (GOFROC) on enhanced potentially pandemic pathogens (ePPPs) that could be harmful for humans. A related issue is the military use of research as dual-use research of concern (DURC). Influenza and coronaviruses are main research targets, because they cause pandemics by airborne infections. Two studies on avian influenza viruses initiated a global debate and a temporary GoF pause in the United States which ended with a new regulatory framework in 2017. In the European Union and China, GoF and DURC are mainly covered by the legislation for laboratory safety and genetically modified organisms. After the coronavirus outbreaks, the GoF research made significant advances, including analyses of modified MERS-like and SARS-like viruses and the creation of synthetic SARS-CoV-2 viruses as a platform to generate mutations. The GoF research on viruses will still play an important role in future, but the need to clarify the differences and overlaps between GoF research, GOFROC and DURC and the need for specialized oversight authorities are still debated.

Keywords: Avian influenza; Biosafety; Biosecurity; Dual-use research of concern DURC; Enhanced potential pandemic pathogen ePPP; Gain-of-Function GoF; Gain-of-Function research of concern GOFROC; MERS virus; SARS virus; SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19).

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • COVID-19*
  • Gain of Function Mutation
  • Humans
  • Influenza, Human* / epidemiology
  • Influenza, Human* / prevention & control
  • Pandemics / prevention & control
  • SARS-CoV-2 / genetics
  • United States