Friday, March 7, 2014

Emerging Technologies: The Bio-Security Debate Part One

Bio-safety law’ll boost food security – NABDA boss... NAIJA INTEL



Author's note: The author presumes a level of knowledge of terms used.

The biological sciences are progressing rapidly and recent developments in biotechnology may have tremendous medical (and other) benefits for humankind. In many cases however, the same discoveries that promote advancement of medicine could also facilitate production of biological weapons of mass destruction. An unclassified Central Intelligence Agency document entitled: The Darker Bioweapons Future claims that 'advances in biotechnology have the potential to create a much more dangerous biological warfare threat ..engineered biological agents could be worse than any disease known to man. (3) see: http://www.who.int/bullitin/volumes/87/9/08-051383/en/ 

Select agent research, synthetic biology, 3D and 4D technology, among other emerging technologies, have serious implications for bio-security and bio-safety. While the topic of  what I will term the ethics of bio-safety and bio-security is certainly not new and I have sat in on many a bio-security meeting particularly after the Interleuken 4 (IL 4) mishap. For background see:http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn311-killer-mousepox-virus-raises-bioterror-fears.html#.UvYVTvl5MVY  or:  http://jvi.asm.org/content/75/3/1205.long

Clostridium Botulinum Bacteria with Spores

On the heels of the Interleukin-4 accident, Larry Wein produced an excellent analysis of the threat botulinum posed to the US Dairy industry. "The intentional contamination of the U.S. milk supply with botulinium toxin, as described in a May 2005 New York Times op-ed essay by Lawrence Wein, (Wein, 2005), sparked an intense debate about the possible security risk it posed, a controversy that was fueled in subsequent weeks by the delayed publication of a peer reviewed paper by Wein and a coauthor (Wein and Liu,2005) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Alberts, 2005) See: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK57093/ 


A few of us were invited by the National Academies of Science down to Lake Como to debate the finer points of the ethics of publishing Wein and Liu's study,  which might have potential bio-security/terrorism implications. We sat with about twenty experts on bio-security, ethics and bio-defence and as the week progressed developed, through often intense debate the National Academies of Science Code of Conduct for the life sciences. At about this time, the US established the NSABB (National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity) See: http://oba.od.nih.gov/biosecurity/about_nsabb.html, which became more or less the oversight committee on bio-technologies which pose a risk to US national security, on which I have written several papers. After our meeting at Como, the OECD Futures Program organized a three day conference in Frascati Italy with the NSABB, WHO, NATO and a couple folks from the White House present. Again it was a very interesting discussion with wider ranging viewpoints from both the scientific community as well as security sections. As most of my colleagues know, I generally take a more 'safety first' approach and chime in on the side of caution, particularly where US national security and the life sciences are at stake. The NSABB is perhaps better known for its expressed concerns over Dutch virologist Ron Fouchier's H5N1 study, for background see:http://news.sciencemag.org/health/2013/09/flu-researcher-ron-fouchier-loses-legal-fight-over-h5n1-studies 

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Today, a host of exciting emerging technologies are not only in pipeline phase but being realized. Many of these technologies have a dual-use capacity which must be considered in light of potential nefarious uses. While I'm particularly interested in and supportive of Craig Venter's bio-printer concept, which I believer will revolutionize how we plan for public health disasters, pandemics, epidemics etc., the flip could well be a military lab using the same printing technology to produce bio-warfare agents at will. I believe there are technical means to inhibit this. I maintain the benefits of synthetic biology and 3D bio-printing far outweigh the potential mis-use however, we must still consider the possibility and plan to take appropriate counter-measures.

to be continued in Part 2 
Dragon voice recognition

Jill Bellamy is an internationally recognized expert on biological warfare and defence. She has formerly advised NATO and for the past seventeen years has represented a number of bio-pharmaceutical and government clients working on procurement strategy between NATO MS and Washinton DC. Her articles have appeared in the National Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Sunday Times of London, Le Temps, Le Monde and the Jerusalem Post among other publications. She is a CBRN SME with the U.S. Department of Defence, Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defence Information Analysis Center and CEO of Warfare Technology Analytics, a private consultancy based in the Netherlands.

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