60-Second Science

Post-Patriot Act Pathogen Research: Less Bang per Buck

New guidelines governing research on potential bioweapons after 9/11 have cut down the number of research papers published per funding dollar. Cynthia Graber reports

The Patriot Act and the Bioterrorism Preparedness Act were passed in 2001 and 2002. These laws in part cover research on pathogens and toxins thought to have potential as bioweapons.

The Bush administration increased funding for research on such toxins and pathogens—but the laws added a great many procedural steps for such research, and restricted who could work with the microbes. Scientists at Carnegie Mellon recently evaluated the impact of the laws on research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Elisabeth Casman et al.,]

They checked out work with anthrax bacteria, the ebola virus, along with a control, Klebsiella bacteria. The researchers did find an increase in the total number of papers published. But before the laws, 17 anthrax papers appeared per million dollars of funding. With the restrictions, only three papers appeared per million dollars of funding. For ebola, the numbers dropped from 14 to six papers per million dollars. Figures for the control stayed the same.

The bottom line: the study authors say that research on anthrax and ebola has not been seriously inhibited. But it has been made significantly less efficient.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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