Obama administration announces new dual-use bioresearch policy

The Obama administration announced a new policy to handle the risks of dual-use biological research on Thursday due to the major controversy caused by recent bird flu virus experiments.

The new policy will cover federally funded research and will call for special reviews of 15 pathogens and toxins, including anthrax, Ebola and highly pathogenic bird flu viruses. If an experiment could yield potentially dangerous information, scientists might be asked to hold back on publishing or the work might need to be classified, NPR reports.

"We would have to refer it to an agency that does classified research, because we don't," Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the NIH, said, according to NPR.

Fauci said that the NIH has looked into its ongoing projects and thinks that very few will endure additional scrutiny under the policy.

"We're not talking about a very large number of studies that are going to get looked at again and might be altered," Fauci said, according to NPR. "We are talking about really, really a little bit more than a handful of studies among hundreds of grants."

Researchers such as Richard Ebright, a chemistry professor at Rutgers University, said that the policy could prevent future controversies, but only if agencies take action.

"If the funding agencies propose only public relations or window dressing as risk mitigation," Ebright said, according to NPR. "Then we'll have only public relations and window dressing, and more of these problems arising."

Ron Fouchier, a scientist with the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, said that authors and journals will still have the final say when it comes to publication. Fouchier was one of the scientists who did the work on the controversial H5N1 bird flu studies.

"Regardless of what the U.S. government and Dutch government say, the authors and the journals are going to have the last vote on the publication issue," Fouchier said, according to NPR.