Policy ForumBiosecurity

What life scientists should know about security threats

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Science  09 Dec 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6317, pp. 1237-1239
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf9334

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Summary

Although concerns about biological weapons and terrorism were discussed by a few scientists before 2001, the broader life-sciences community was not engaged until after the 2001 anthrax-laced letters. The events of 2001 led to efforts in the United States to strengthen biological security for pathogens that could adversely affect public health and safety (i.e., Biological Select Agents and Toxins) and research that could be directly misapplied for harmful purposes (i.e., Dual Use Life Sciences Research of Concern). Resulting policy and practices required scientists to assess security risks of certain types of pathogen research and to identify and implement risk reduction measures. However, scientists have argued for years that their lack of access to or knowledge about malicious actors limits effective assessment and communication of security risks (13). How much information is available in the public domain for scientists to understand, evaluate, and communicate plausible biosecurity risks; and what can be done to prevent such threats?