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Color-enhanced scanning electron micrograph of cells infected with Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS), one of the viruses banned from gain-of-function research.

Research that involves modifying certain diseases to make them more deadly will again be funded by the US government, writes Sara Reardon for Nature. Scientists can use these so called gain-of-function studies to understand what mutations a virus might need to become more deadly, or understand how a disease interacts with our immune system. But concerns about safety protocols and potential pandemics led the White House to ban funding such research in 2014.

Why it matters: If something goes wrong, such research could have deadly consequences. But proponents argue the knowledge gained can save lives. When the ban was first enacted, it applied to the flu, SARS, and MERS, but some scientists said it was too broad. It initially halted 21 projects — some of which were related to vaccine research, reports Reardon. The moratorium gave the government time to develop a regulatory framework and added layers of security.

Is it worth it?

  • Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at the Harvard, told Reardon that such studies "have done almost nothing to improve our preparedness for pandemics — yet they risked creating an accidental pandemic".
  • But some researchers see promise in the work. James Paulson, a scientist at the Scripps Institute, told NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce the announcement "is very good news for laboratories interested in understanding the threat of natural pathogens to the human population."

Go deeper

Bipartisan group of senators unveil $908 billion COVID stimulus proposal

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) in the Capitol in 2018. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

A bipartisan group of senators on Tuesday proposed a $908 billion coronavirus stimulus package, in one of the few concrete steps toward COVID relief made by Congress in several months.

Why it matters: Recent data shows that the economic recovery is floundering as coronavirus cases surge and hospitals threaten to be overwhelmed heading into what is likely to be a grim winter.

Inside Patch's new local newsletter platform

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Patch, the hyperlocal (and profitable) local digital news company, has built a new software platform called "Patch Labs" that lets local news reporters publish their own newsletters and websites, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: It follows a growing trend of journalists going solo via newsletters at the national level.

Scoop: Politico stars plot new Playbook

Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Three of Politico’s biggest reporting stars plan to launch a competitor to the company’s Politico Playbook franchise, sources tell me. 

Why it matters:  Jake Sherman, Anna Palmer and John Bresnahan will launch a daily newsletter in 2021 as a stand-alone company, the sources say. In effect, they will be competing against the Playbook franchise they helped create and grow. 

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