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other openings in the skin. First responders could also be at risk, should they arrive on scene due to a fire or other emergency, and, if they are infected, lead to a broader outbreak. Lab-based infections occur even in professional laboratories with well-trained staff, and the risks to the community were much higher here.

B. The United States Lacks Effective Safeguards and Tripwires for Pathogenic Research

A disturbing realization is that no one knows whether there are other unknown biolabs in the United States because there is no monitoring system in place. Zhu, UMI, and other confederates at the Reedley Biolab were able to buy pathogens from accredited and respected U.S. laboratories. Zhu is a wanted fugitive in Canada and serial fraudster. UMI and its successor organizations like Prestige Biotech are little more than a corporate filing and a website. There does not appear to be any voluntary vetting of the purchase of pathogens or the equipment and materials needed to increase the lethality of pathogens. That is dangerous and requires reform.

The federal government and state authorities have implemented identification and reporting requirements related to acquiring other potentially dangerous substances. Federal law, for instance, requires that anyone purchasing items containing pseudoephedrine—a key ingredient in methamphetamine—has to provide a valid photo ID while the selling organization needs to keep a record of the purchase.[1] There are similar restrictions on the purchase of bulk fertilizer and certain types of chemicals.[2] However, there is no current requirement for acquiring pathogens (aside from Select Agents) or materials that allow for pathogenic research. Just as we require Americans to show a valid photo ID subject to government review in these instances, it is altogether reasonable to have similar policies in place for dangerous pathogens and equipment that can allow for malicious research relating to the same.

Similarly, the United States currently “does not conduct oversight of privately funded research, including enhancement of potential pandemic pathogens, if those pathogens are not select agents.”[3] That means that pathogenic and other related research that could have benign or malicious intent—known as Dual Use Research of Concern (DURC)—are not currently under any oversight policies if they do not receive federal funding or conduct research with any harmful pathogen outside the 15 expressly listed in the policy.[4] In addition, the CDC Division of Select Agents and Toxins program has no oversight on laboratories engaging in pathogenic research if their research does not involve Select Agents

  1. Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005, Pub. L. No. 109-177, tit. VII (2006).
  2. See, e.g., 18 U.S.C. § 842 (unlawful acts relating to explosive materials).
  3. GAO-23-105455: Public Health Preparedness, GAO (Jan. 2023).
  4. Id.

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