Policy ForumBiosecurity

Assessing the bioweapons threat

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Science  21 Aug 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6250, pp. 792-793
DOI: 10.1126/science.aab0713

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The U.S. government (USG) has taken steps intended to diminish the likelihood of misuse of research—in one recent action, declaring a funding moratorium on gain-of-function studies on influenza until a risk-benefit analysis can be conducted (1). The analysis is expected to examine biosafety concerns, the potential for such research to produce a biological weapons agent, and the possibility that publication may lower barriers to bioweapons development (1). To analyze the security risks of biological research, however, it is first necessary to determine the likelihood that bioweapons will threaten national security and to what degree legitimate research is at risk of misuse. This type of assessment is fraught with uncertainty.