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Faye Flam

Let’s Make Sure Lab-Grown Viruses Stay in the Lab

Boston University researchers created a new strain of Covid. Such work is important, but needs more stringent oversight.

Take care.

Take care.

Photographer: Karen Ducey/Getty Images

Researchers at Boston University sparked alarming headlines this week by creating a more lethal version of the omicron Covid variant. At the heart of the uproar is the fact that the researchers didn’t have any obligation to inform anyone beyond an internal review board about what they were doing. Some officials at the National Institutes of Health only heard about the research through the media.

Another recent development could prove even more concerning: Nature reported last week on plans for 40 new virology labs being built around the world. Known as BSL-4 labs, designed to deal with the most dangerous pathogens, they’re being built in India, Singapore, the Philippines, Kazakhstan and Russia, among other countries. The ostensible aim is to make us safer, but even before this current pandemic, some virologists saw these BSL-4 labs as a problem — the germ equivalent of the nuclear proliferation.