Federal agencies to systematically review federally funded pathogen and toxin studies

The United States government released a new policy on Thursday requiring federal agencies to systematically review the possible risks connected with federally funded studies that involve 15 pathogens and toxins considered potentially dangerous.

The list of high consequence toxins and pathogens include the H5N1 avian influenza virus. The reviews will attempt to reduce the risks connected with dual use biological research that could be used for good or evil, Science reports.

The "dual use research of concern" policy, which was partly a reaction to the controversy over recent H5N1 avian flu research, will expand current reviews already conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health. The agencies had already reviewed intramural studies proposed by staff scientists that have dual-use potential. The reviews will now expand to extramural projects conducted by university scientists and scientists at other institutions. The rules would also be applicable to any other federal agencies that fund unclassified biological research, like the Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The DURC policy will require all agencies to review projects that are already funded and those that have been proposed. A risk mitigation plan must be developed if a review identifies DURC potential and particularly problematic studies may result in a request for a voluntary redaction or making the findings classified. The policy goes into effect immediately, Science reports.

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