Virology under the Microscope-a Call for Rational Discourse

mSphere. 2023 Apr 20;8(2):e0003423. doi: 10.1128/msphere.00034-23. Epub 2023 Jan 26.


Viruses have brought humanity many challenges: respiratory infection, cancer, neurological impairment and immunosuppression to name a few. Virology research over the last 60+ years has responded to reduce this disease burden with vaccines and antivirals. Despite this long history, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented attention to the field of virology. Some of this attention is focused on concern about the safe conduct of research with human pathogens. A small but vocal group of individuals has seized upon these concerns - conflating legitimate questions about safely conducting virus-related research with uncertainties over the origins of SARS-CoV-2. The result has fueled public confusion and, in many instances, ill-informed condemnation of virology. With this article, we seek to promote a return to rational discourse. We explain the use of gain-of-function approaches in science, discuss the possible origins of SARS-CoV-2 and outline current regulatory structures that provide oversight for virological research in the United States. By offering our expertise, we - a broad group of working virologists - seek to aid policy makers in navigating these controversial issues. Balanced, evidence-based discourse is essential to addressing public concern while maintaining and expanding much-needed research in virology.

Keywords: COVID-19; Coronavirus; DURC; Gain of function; SARS-CoV-2; biosafety; influenza; pandemic; vaccines; zoonosis.

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents
  • COVID-19* / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Pandemics / prevention & control
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Viruses*


  • Antiviral Agents