NPR

Russian Lab Explosion Raises Question: Should Smallpox Virus Be Kept Or Destroyed?

The lab is one of two known places that store live samples of the virus that causes the disease. Scientists use them for research. But there is concern about accidental or intentional release.
A computer illustration of the virus that causes smallpox. The virus was eradicated in 1980, but live samples are kept in two known labs for research. Source: Science Artwork/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

An explosion this week in a Russian lab, one of only two labs in the world known to store live samples of the variola virus, which causes smallpox, has raised anew questions that have been asked since the disease was eradicated in 1980.

Should humankind hold on to the live virus to conduct research on treatments, tests and vaccines in case smallpox were to reemerge?

Or is it more prudent to destroy all samples of the live virus to avoid any accidental or intentional release and instead rely on sequenced gene fragments for further research?

(Note to concerned readers: One worker was injured in the gas explosion at the Russian lab, in the Siberian city of Koltsovo, and was hospitalized

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