Bioscience Security Issues

By Dando, Malcolm; Epstein, Gerald L. | Issues in Science and Technology, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview
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Bioscience Security Issues

Dando, Malcolm, Epstein, Gerald L., Issues in Science and Technology

In his comprehensive discussion of the problem of "Securing Life Sciences Research in an Age of Terrorism" (Issues, Fall, 2006), Ronald M. Atlas rightly closes by noting that "further efforts to establish a culture of responsibility are needed to ensure fulfillment of the public trust and the fiduciary obligations it engenders to ensure that life sciences research is not used for bioterrorism or biowarfare." This raises the question of whether practicing life scientists are able to generate a culture of responsibility.

As we move towards the sixth review conference of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) in Geneva (November 20 to 8 December, 2006), we can be sure that attention will be given to the scope and pace of change in the life sciences and the need for all to understand that any such developments are covered by the prohibitions embodied in the convention.

Yet despite the acknowledgement at previous Review Conferences of the importance of education for life scientists in strengthening the effectiveness of the BTWC, and the encouragingly wide participation of life scientists and their international and national organizations in the 2005 BTWC meetings on codes of conduct, as a number of States Parties noted then, there is still a great need among life scientists for awareness-raising on these issues so that their expertise may be properly engaged in finding solutions to the many problems outlined by Atlas. My own discussions in interactive seminars carried out with my colleague Brian Rappert and involving numerous scientists in the United Kingdom, United States, Europe, and South Africa over the past two years have impressed on me how little knowledge most practicing life scientists have of the concerns that are growing in the security community about the potential misuse of life sciences research by those with malign intent (see M. R. Dando, "Article IV: National Implementation: Education, Outreach and Codes of Conduct," in Strengthening the Biological Weapons Convention: Key Points for the Sixth Review Conference, G. S. Pearson, N. A. Sims, and M. R. Dando, eds. (Bradford, UK: University of Bradford, 2006), 119-134; available at

I therefore believe that a culture of responsibility will come about only after a huge educational effort is undertaken around the world. Constructing the right educational materials and ensuring that they are widely used will be a major task, and I doubt that it is possible without the active participation of the States Parties to the Convention. It is therefore to be hoped that the Final Declaration of the Review Conference includes agreements on the importance of education and measures, such as having one of the inter-sessional meetings before the next review in 2011 consider educational initiatives, to ensure that a process of appropriate education takes place.


Professor of International Security

Department of Peace Studies

University of Bradford

Bradford, United Kingdom

As Ronald M. Atlas' excellent discussion shows, it is important for the bioscience and biotechnology communities to do whatever they can--such as education and awareness, proposal review, pathogen and laboratory security, and responsible conduct--to prevent technical advances from helping those who deliberately intend to inflict harm.

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