University Of Wisconsin Investigated By House Republicans Over ‘Dangerous Gain-Of-Function’ Research
MADISON, WI - OCTOBER 12: An outside view of Bascom Hall on the campus of the University of Wisconsin on October 12, 2013 in Madison, Wisconsin.
Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images.

House Republicans announced an investigation on Friday into gain-of-function research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that they said could be “dangerous.”

The letter was sent by Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic Chairman Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) to UW Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin requesting information on the university’s gain-of-function research and any information on if the university had worked with the Wuhan Institute of Virology or on any coronavirus projects. 

The letter pointed to previous problems identified with gain-of-function research at the university, but the university has said that the controversial research is “needed and highly regulated.” 

Wenstrup said that he disagreed with the university’s assertion that there was enough regulation on gain-of-function research, saying that previous use of gain-of-function research at the university proved otherwise. 

“UW has already shown it has the capabilities to modify pathogens and make them more dangerous. In 2011, Dr. Yoshihiro Kawaoka revealed to the world that he had modified the deadly avian H5N1 influenza virus so it could spread between ferrets. This experiment enabled the bird virus to spread more easily among mammals, particularly ferrets which most closely mimic human response to the flu. The H5N1 virus is considered a ‘potential pandemic pathogen,’ which through modification or handling could cause another global pandemic,” Wenstrup wrote. 

The letter also referenced several instances where gain-of-function research was being conducted at the university and scientists working on the projects ended up in quarantine. In one instance, a researcher pricked their finger with a needle that had engineered high pathogenic avian influenza on it and had to have their family stay at a hotel while quarantining at home. 

In response to these reports, some Republican lawmakers in the state have moved to ban gain-of-function research. Rep. Elijah Behnke, Rep. Ty Bodden, and Sen. André Jacque are working on a bill that would ban “institutions of higher education from conducting gain of function research on potentially pandemic pathogens, requiring reporting of the intention to conduct research on potentially pandemic pathogens, and providing a penalty.”


The university has pushed back on the notion that the research is problematic, saying that it instead important for the public’s safety.

“The ability to safely study harmful viruses, bacteria and other pathogens is critically important for protecting public health and the food supply,” UW spokeswoman Kelly Tyrrell told Wisconsin Health News. “UW-Madison is committed to ensuring that its researchers who work with high-risk pathogens have safe and secure laboratories and receive training and certification to ensure their investigations are conducted safely.”

Several federal government agencies believe that COVID likely escaped from a lab in China, potentially as they were conducting gain-of-function research on the coronavirus. 

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