Scientists say that the number of safest laboratories used to conduct research on the most dangerous organisms has skyrocketed in the past decade and warned that lax controls in some places could lead to another pandemic.
There are at least 59 highest biosafety level 4 laboratories (BSL-4) in the world under planning, construction or operation, spanning 23 countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, China, India, Gabon and Ivory Coast. These include the Chinese facility of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is now at the center of the renewal. U.S. Intelligence Investigation Is it possible for Covid-19 to leak from its laboratory?
Gregory Koblentz, associate professor of biological defenses at George Mason University and Filippa Lentzos of King’s College London Mapping These facilities found that half of the 42 laboratories for which planning data were available were constructed in the past ten years.
Three-quarters of the BSL-4 laboratories are located in the city center. Of the 23 countries, only 3 countries have formulated a national policy to supervise so-called dual-use research, and experiments conducted for civilian purposes can also be used for military purposes.
Scientific and international security expert Renzos said: “In some countries where the media has reported on this matter, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, the coverage will definitely get better and better, but we have not reached the level we want.” “Work in progress. The more, the more accidents will occur.”
The rapid expansion of such facilities, especially in countries such as China, has intensified concerns about the leakage of hazardous materials.
Richard Ebright, a professor of chemical biology at Rutgers University, said: “The more organizations there are, the more people are exposed to these hazardous substances, and the greater the risk.” “Accidents and spills have occurred in large numbers. , Especially in places where biosafety standards are weak. We need to strengthen biosafety and biosecurity rules around the world.”
US intelligence officials are currently investigating whether the Wuhan Institute could play any role in the origin of Covid-19. The Chinese facility is one of no more than six BSL-4 laboratories in the world, and these laboratories have been conducting controversial “Functional gainEbright said research on bat-related pathogens before the pandemic.
Regardless of the conclusions reached by US agencies, Covid-19 has focused its attention on biomedical research on deadly pathogens, most of which are not subject to international regulation or supervision.
According to the Global Health Safety Index cited by Koblenz and Renzos, less than a quarter of the countries where BSL-4 laboratories operate have a “high” level of biosafety preparedness, such as the United States and the United Kingdom . Approximately one-third, including China, have a “medium” level, while 41% have a “low” level, such as South Africa.
The research by Lenzos and Koblenz adds to the existing concerns of many scientists that the number of accidents involving biomedical research is already high, even in the safest facilities.
In the United States, the health department and the Centers for Disease Control jointly monitor the use of 67 different types of toxins and other potentially hazardous materials. Their latest report found that in the United States in 2019, such substances were lost 13 times and accidentally released 219 times. This resulted in more than 1,000 people undergoing medical evaluations, some of them taking preventive medications. However, no one was infected with a certain disease.
After 2001, the United States increased surveillance of its domestic facilities when an attacker sent anthrax virus believed to have come from the U.S. Army Medical Research Laboratory in Fort Detrick to multiple media and two members of Congress, killing 5 people.
The 2001 anthrax attack was not the only example of laboratory security failures in recent decades.
In 2004, 9 people Infected with SARS Two researchers were exposed to the virus while working at the China Institute of Virology in Beijing, resulting in one death. In November 2019, just one month before the first confirmed case of Covid-19, there were more than 6,000 people in northwestern China be infected Brucellosis is a bacterial disease that has flu-like symptoms after a leak in a vaccine factory.
China has been particularly keen to build more laboratories with the highest security level to strengthen its scientific research capabilities. Bai Chunli, the former president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, wrote an article last year warning that, compared with the United States, China has an “obvious shortfall” in the number of high-level biosafety laboratories.
Guangdong Province announced in May that it plans to build 25 to 30 biosafety tertiary laboratories and a BSL-4 laboratory in the next five years.
But some Chinese officials have warned that the security of existing facilities is poor. In 2019, Yuan Zhiming, director of the BSL-4 laboratory of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, wrote an overview of the safety deficiencies in Chinese laboratories. Yaun wrote: “Some high-level BSLs do not have enough working capital for daily but vital processes,” adding that maintenance costs are “usually overlooked”.
“Due to limited resources, some BSL-3 laboratories have extremely low operating costs, or in some cases, none at all,” he said. In 2020, the central government passed a new law to improve national biosafety standards.
Critics say that China keeps the activities of such facilities secret, so it is difficult to know their safety. In January 2020, Beijing told biosafety laboratories working on Sars-Cov-2 samples that they need government approval to release any information about the virus.
Many scientists stated that China’s method of conducting international investigations into the origin of Covid-19 shows that there are problems with conducting high-risk experiments in the country. March, 13 countries Criticize China Because international experts are not allowed to have full access to data and samples related to the beginning of the pandemic.
Renzos said: “So far, the laboratories we have seen related to the Wuhan Institute of Virology are not open and transparent about the types of work they do.” “When you have these types of laboratories, you You must ensure that they are open, transparent, and that you interact with your peers.”