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Biosafety labs that handle dangerous pathogens multiply worldwide despite safety concerns: report

Labs are lucrative for researchers but "super expensive" to run and maintain, aside from fears of creating more dangerous organisms.

Published: October 14, 2022 11:40am

Updated: October 14, 2022 12:20pm

The COVID-19 pandemic has kicked off a wave of planned biosafety laboratories that handle dangerous pathogens worldwide, especially in India, the Philippines and Singapore, according to Nature.

Over 40 labs are in development at the levels of BSL-3, which allow scientists to "safely work with potentially lethal and inhalable pathogens in a contained environment," and BSL-4, which handle pathogens so dangerous they must be physically separated from the rest of the building and require a "dedicated air supply."

Scientists are cheering and worrying about the plans, which could lead to improved drugs for infectious diseases that plague developing countries such as Kyasanur forest disease but are also "super expensive" to maintain, Nature said.

The BSL-4 lab at Galveston National Laboratory, in Texas, brings in $12 million a year from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases "just for maintenance and operations," one-sixth of that just for 24-hour security, said the virologist who runs it, Thomas Ksiazek.

Filippa Lentzos, a biosecurity researcher at King’s College London, said the explosion in labs could also increase gain-of-function research that makes pathogens more dangerous.

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