Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has made a national name for himself by inserting his state’s government into charged issues like classroom discussions of sexual orientation and social-justice-oriented education. Widely seen to be eying a presidential campaign, DeSantis now has a new target: enhanced potential pandemic pathogen research.
On Thursday, the governor signed a host of bills on hot-button issues-of-the-day among Republican politicians and voters, including one that would prevent research involving potentially pandemic capable viruses that result from “enhancing the transmissibility or virulence of a pathogen.” The US Department of Health and Human Services is reviewing recommendations to tighten its requirements for funding such projects, known colloquially as “gain of function” research, but DeSantis has now leapfrogged any federal decision.
“We are the first state in the United States to ban, formally, gain of function research,” DeSantis said to cheers from a Florida audience.
According to the law, “any research that is reasonably likely to create an enhanced potential pandemic pathogen or that has been determined by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, another federal agency, or a state agency…to create such a pathogen is prohibited in this state.”
Biomedical research is a hot topic among Republicans as the Republican-controlled House investigates the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. One theory holds that laboratory research in Wuhan, China—which included projects partially funded with US research dollars to analyze hybrid bat coronaviruses—was responsible for the emergence of the pandemic. The so-called “lab-leak” theory, however, is far from proven fact, with many scientists ascribing to the other leading hypothesis for how the pandemic began, with the spillover of the COVID-19 coronavirus at a market selling wildlife.
But the scientific uncertainty regarding the origins of the pandemic didn’t deter DeSantis from expressing confidence in the lab leak theory. “What we know is there was gain of function research being conducted at Wuhan, and that very likely led to the emergence of COVID-19,” DeSantis said. “And yet there really isn’t effective regulation.”
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