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Scientists create a deadlier Omicron variant

Twitter exploded with outrage last week about a study in which scientists engineered the spike protein of Omicron—the fast-spreading but relatively mild variant of SARS-CoV-2 that’s now pervasive—into a deadlier strain of the coronavirus found in Washington state early in the pandemic.

The objective was to learn whether the protein alone explains Omicron’s lower pathogenicity. The hybrid virus killed 80% of infected mice, according to a preprint posted on 14 October by Boston University (BU) researchers. Critics worried it could escape the lab. They also argued that the work, partially funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), qualifies as “gain-of-function” (GOF) research that makes risky pathogens more dangerous and should have gone through a high-level federal review.

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