A chance chat with a colleague pulled social psychologist Kieran O’Doherty into the realm of human microbiome research. O’Doherty’s colleague was organizing a workshop on human microbiome research and needed a social scientist, so he asked O’Doherty to join in. Captivated by the sea of questions facing microbiologists as they made their first forays into a field with novel human health implications, O’Doherty found much to investigate at the intersection of people and research. One of his current projects focuses on women’s health and the vaginal microbiome. His microbiologist colleagues focus on correlating microbiotic profiles with outcomes like preterm birth, while O’Doherty surveys the women about their sex lives, diet, and hygiene behaviors, hoping to ferret out what activities led to their specific profiles in the first place. In this issue’s Thought Experiment, O’Doherty enumerates the ethical questions posed by human microbiome research, such as designer babies created via microbiome manipulations and implications for the privacy of health-care data.Vives i Batlle first collaborated with Nick Beresford on the international FASSET/ERICA projects, which developed tools for assessment of radiological risk to wildlife. Beresford has been researching radionuclides in the environment for more than 20 years, initially focused on radionuclide contamination of farm animals. After the Chernobyl accident, he studied the impact on sheep in the United Kingdom and worked in the Chernobyl exclusion zone to measure the transfer of radioactivity to cow milk. Beresford invited Vives i Batlle to collaborate on their Critic at Large article calling for more research into Fukushima’s impacts on the nonhuman environment. Though efforts to monitor human safety are to be lauded, they argue that ecological contamination also needs comprehensive assessment.
In the wake of a handful of biosafety lapses at federal research facilities, the US government is temporarily halting funding for new studies aiming to give novel functions to influenza, SARS, and MERS viruses.