The Interagency Challenge of Biosecurity in Dual-Use Research
by Matthew J. Moakler
On October 17, 2014, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy announced a funding pause for “gain-of-function” research (i.e., research that increases an organism’s ability to cause disease) in order to conduct a study to develop a new federal research policy. This announcement is the latest in a long history of U.S. policies intended to mitigate the risk of advancements in the life sciences contributing unwittingly to a biological weapon (BW) program. While the intention to protect U.S. citizens from a BW attack may be noble, biosecurity policies and regulations appear to be implemented as reactions to discreet events without a comprehensive strategy to address potential future threats. This latest decision raises many questions about what must inform a discussion of the interagency’s biosecurity task:
- Who can best determine whether specific biological research can contribute to BW development?
- What is the balance between advancing life-saving techniques and protecting the population from a BW attack?
- How do different biosecurity stakeholders interact with each other?
- Who gets the final say on allowing research to go forward?
- What measures should be taken to prevent the misuse of life science research?
- Who should have the responsibility to enforce such measures?
The urgency of these and similar questions becomes apparent in view of the fact that the pace of advancement in the life sciences is expected to increase not only in the realm of existing technologies, but also with the introduction of new technology, techniques, and venues for conducting research—including experiments conducted by do-it-yourself researchers in home laboratories…
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|About the Author:U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Matthew J. Moakler serves at the International Security and Nonproliferation Bureau, Department of State. He holds a M.S. degree in biodefense and is a Countering WMD Graduate Fellow at National Defense University.|