Policy ForumPublic Health and BIosecurity

Adaptations of Avian Flu Virus Are a Cause for Concern

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Science  10 Feb 2012:
Vol. 335, Issue 6069, pp. 660-661
DOI: 10.1126/science.1217994

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We are in the midst of a revolutionary period in the life sciences. Technological capabilities have dramatically expanded, we have a much improved understanding of the complex biology of selected microorganisms, and we have a much improved ability to manipulate microbial genomes. With this has come unprecedented potential for better control of infectious diseases and significant societal benefit. However, there is also a growing risk that the same science will be deliberately misused and that the consequences could be catastrophic. Efforts to describe or define life-sciences research of particular concern have focused on the possibility that knowledge or products derived from such research, or new technologies, could be directly misapplied with a sufficiently broad scope to affect national or global security. Research that might greatly enhance the harm caused by microbial pathogens has been of special concern (13). Until now, these efforts have suffered from a lack of specificity and a paucity of concrete examples of “dual use research of concern” (3). Dual use is defined as research that could be used for good or bad purposes. We are now confronted by a potent, real-world example.

  • * The authors are members of the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity.