News:Ambiguity of Reverse Genetics in Virology

Reverse genetics, which involves the "targeted modification of gene sequences to obtain a phenotype and the inference of a gene's function or regulatory mechanism," is a powerful tool in viral biology.

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But even though reverse genetics has helped us learn a lot about molecular biology and how viruses spread, its ease of use and openness (data) have caused many people to worry about biosafety and biosecurity.

A recent article published in the Biosafety and Health Journal clearly educates the recent milestones of Reverse Genetics in Virology, potential biosafety and biosecurity concerns, and regulation and oversight of research involving Reverse Genetics.

Milestones of Reverse Genetics in Virology

In virology, reverse genetics is divided into three distinct phases: the sprouting period (1970s – 1980s), the development period(1990s), and the application phase (2000s-present). In each of these periods, significant development in RG occurred that gave rise to its wider application.

Potential biosafety and biosecurity concerns involving Reverse Genetics

Reverse Genetics has undeniable benefits and potential in the field of Biology, but sometimes its most significant strength can be its greatest enemy.

We can use our extensive knowledge of viral gene functions to modify target genes or create viruses from scratch to obtain viruses with altered characteristics such as increased virulence, a shift in host specificity and transmission routes, and the reconstruction of the eradicated virus.

Scientists argue that the improper or malicious use of RG poses a significant risk to biosafety and biosecurity.

Regulation and oversight of research involving Reverse Genetics

Scientists have explicitly said, “If RG was used to genetically modify viruses, it should adhere to the relevant regulations on pathogens. Laboratory Biosafety Manual (4th edition) by WHO and Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL) (6th edition) by US NIH and CDC describe the classification of pathogens and the level of biosafety protection corresponding to each classification.”

Several other regulations are in place to govern the research involving Reverse Genetics, and they vary according to their application.


H Chen et al. Reverse genetics in virology: A double edged sword. Biosafety and Health (2022),

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