June 2016 –
On April 26th, 2016, the Center for the Study of Weapons of Mass Destruction (CSWMD) at National Defense University held a workshop to explore “Security Implications of Emerging Biotechnologies.” Participants from government, NGOs and academia discussed opportunities and challenges of a new era of biotechnology, one highlighted by the advancing ease with which the genomes of organisms can be engineered for specific purposes, potentially more rapidly than we are prepared to assess and deal responsibly with its ramifications. Synthetic biology and associated genome editing tools will be essential for addressing the global challenge of resource scarcity, provide unprecedented advances in public health and medicine, and create innovative products that can support national defense, as well as commodities that stimulate the US economy. At the same time, new dual-use technologies will present significant challenges to biosecurity, biosafety, and have already begun to generate ethical and moral dilemmas. Participants stressed the need to address these issues in ways that do not stifle the technology’s advancement nor America’s competitiveness in the global bioeconomy.
The workshop was convened to consider the potential biosecurity concerns of emerging biotechnologies and their impact on national security. The dual use problem was discussed in the context of “biosecurity by design,” a concept conceived specifically in preparation for the workshop in which government, industry, academia, national laboratories, and individual users should be mindful of developing potential security solutions at each step of technology development. Participants also confirmed that the scope of biosecurity should extend to the protection of people, the environment and the economy, as all may be vulnerable in the face of emerging biotechnologies. It further was noted that threats could include those perpetrated for “strategic effect,” and should not be limited to those traditionally associated with weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
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