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A New Role for Scientists in the Biological Weapons Convention

Gigi Kwik Gronvall
Date posted:
October 15, 2005
Publication type:

Nat Biotechnol 2005;23(10):1213-1216

Nature Publishing Group
Available on publisher's website
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Moves are afoot that could make individual scientists, not just governments, accountable under international and national bioweapon legislation.

The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC; formally titled the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on Their Destruction) is the first agreement among nations that declared an entire category of weapons to be off limits. When it was signed in 1972, scientists were not considered likely to develop biological weapons on their own, but at the behest of their governments. However, the perception that scientists are just tools of their governments changed with the increased powers of biotechnology and the increased interest in bioterrorism by nonstate actors. The ability to use biology for harm is no longer the province of teams of scientists and large budgets, but a possibility for a trained scientist working alone at the bench. As a reflection of this new era, BWC treaty members are currently discussing measures to influence scientists' behavior, including professional codes of conduct and increased pathogen security. At the next BWC multilateral conference in 2006, treaty members may make decisions that affect how scientists work and how they are trained.

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