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Biological Threats in the 21st Century
Gigi Kwik Gronvall
Date posted:
August 11, 2016
Publication type:
World Scientific
Available on Publisher Website
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A great deal of the scientific knowledge, materials and techniques required for legitimate, beneficent biological research could also be used to make a biological weapon. For instance, laboratory research conducted to uncover critical information about how a pathogen manipulates the human immune system to cause disease could be exploited to make a disease harder to treat. Yet, the aspiration to protect the life sciences from deliberate misuse is clear. As stated in the seminal National Academies of Science report, Biotechnology in an Age of Terrorism, scientists have an “affirmative moral duty to avoid contributing to the advancement of biowarfare or bioterrorism.” It is how you implement this in practice that is the real challenge. The NSABB has considered this problem, and has codified ‘Dual Use Research of Concern’ (known as DURC) as “life sciences research that, based on current understanding, can be reasonably anticipated to provide knowledge, information, products, or technologies that could be directly misapplied to pose a significant threat with broad potential consequences to public health and safety, agricultural crops and other plants, animals, the environment, materiel or national security.” DURC research review is now required for U.S. federally funded research with regulated pathogens; scientists are required to develop a risk mitigation plan and assess risks and benefits of the research.