Understanding Bioethical Concerns of Laboratory Research: A Case Study On Discovering Programmed Necrosis Pathways
The concept of “good” research is concrete in terms of technique, but complex in theory. As technology advances, the complexity of problems we must solve also grows. Research is facing an ethical dilemma—which projects, applied or basic, should be funded. Research is no longer an isolated sector in society, and the decisions made inside of the laboratory are affecting the general public more directly than ever before. While there is no correct answer to what the future of research should be, it is clear that good research can no longer be only defined by the current classification system, which is rooted in antiquated, yet ingrained, social status distinctions.
Differences between basic and applied research were explored through a wet-lab case study. Vaccinia virus (VACV) infections are a prime model of the competition between a virus and its host. VACV contains a gene that is highly evasive of the host immune system, gene E3L. The protein encoded by E3L is E3, which contains two highly conserved regions, a C-terminus, and a N-terminus. While the C-terminus is well-understood, the mechanism by which the N-terminus grants IFN resistance was previously unknown. This project demonstrated that the N-terminus prevents the initiation of programmed necrosis through host-encoded cellular proteins RIP3 and DAI. These findings provide insight into the function of the N-terminus of E3, as well as the unique functions of induced programmed necrosis.
This project was an example of “basic” research. However, it highlights the interconnectivity of basic and applied research and the danger in isolating both projects and perspectives. It points to the difficult decisions that must be made in science, and the need for a better research classification system that considers what makes science “good” outside of antiquated social class ideologies that have shaped science since ancient Greece. While there are no easy answers to determine what makes research “good,” thinking critically about the types of research projects that will be pursued, and the effects that research has on both science and society, will raise awareness, initiate new conversations, and encourage more dialogue about science in the 21st century.