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Global effort needed to anticipate and prevent potential misuse of advances in life sciences

Biomedical advances have made it possible to identify and manipulate features of living organisms in useful ways -- leading to improvements in public health, agriculture, and other areas. The globalization of scientific and technical expertise also means that many scientists and other individuals around the world are generating breakthroughs in the life sciences and related technologies. However, coordinated global efforts are needed to reduce the growing risk that new advances in these areas will be used to make novel biological weapons or misused by careless groups and individuals, says a new report from the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. The report recommends multidisciplinary measures to identify and mitigate such dangers over the next five to 10 years.

"Our increasingly interdependent global society needs a broad array of integrated, decisive actions to successfully anticipate and manage the potential misuse of biomedical research and the technologies it generates," said Stanley M. Lemon, director, Institute for Human Infections and Immunity, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, and co-chair of the committee that wrote the report. "The opportunities to inflict harm are unparalleled."

As a start, the entire scientific community should broaden its awareness that bioterrorism threats now include, for example, new approaches for manipulating or killing a host organism or for producing synthetic micro-organisms, the report says. "U.S. national biodefense programs currently focus on a relatively small number of specific agents or toxins, but gains in biomedical understanding have raised major concerns about the next generation of biowarfare agents," said committee co-chair David A. Relman, associate professor of medicine and of microbiology and immunology, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif. "We need to expand our thinking about the nature of future biological threats, as well as more
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Contact: Vanee Vines
news@nas.edu
202-334-2138
The National Academies
31-Jan-2006


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