This study’s purpose was to highlight the changing safety and security landscape engendered by the emergence of new genome editing technologies, help policy-makers and other stakeholders navigate this space, and illuminate broader trends in the life sciences that may impact the biosecurity landscape.
The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security has formulated an encompassing working definition of global catastrophic biological risks (GCBRs) that reflects diverse sources of risk and mechanisms of damage. The authors draw on their definition to highlight some important considerations for understanding and addressing GCBRs.
The fact that biological weapons have never been used—at least in recent history—is not sufficient reason to dismiss concerns that terrorists or nations could acquire and use dangerous pathogens as weapons. The ongoing discussion about gain-of-function experiments should take this very real prospect more seriously.
According to the WHO, dual use research of concern (DURC) is “life sciences research that is intended for benefit, but which might easily be misapplied to do harm”. Recent studies, particularly those on influenza viruses, have led to renewed attention on DURC, as there is an ongoing debate over whether the benefits of gain‐of‐function (GOF) experiments that result in an increase in the transmission and/or pathogenicity of potential pandemic pathogens (PPPs) are outweighed by concerns over biosecurity and biosafety.
Although the life sciences promise huge benefits, the possibility of doing harm from deliberate misuse of knowledge is an increasingly worrisome issue. Discussion and mitigation of these risks by life scientists must be encouraged.