EDITORIAL

New Rules for Biosecurity

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Science  29 May 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5931, pp. 1117
DOI: 10.1126/science.1176543

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Summary

Biosecurity regulations are back on the table again, and revised policies could have broad implications for the entire scientific enterprise. In response to an Executive Order by President Bush on 9 January 2009, an interagency working group is reviewing all U.S. laws and regulations governing the conduct of research with biological materials that are potential security threats—so-called select agents. The issue at hand concerns how to balance the risks associated with select agents against ensuring that the public can reap the full potential benefits of research on them. The report of the working group is expected in July, and it will propose an array of policies for improving laboratory biosafety and security, from defining what select agents are and who has access to them, to specifying the oversight of laboratories that handle them. Done well, the review could greatly improve biosecurity and the climate for biological research in the United States and abroad. Done poorly, there could be a variety of unintended negative consequences, including over-restricted access to vital resources and a constrained ability to collaborate internationally on a broad range of topics.