The following HTML text is provided to enhance online
readability. Many aspects of typography translate only awkwardly to HTML.
Please use the page image
as the authoritative form to ensure accuracy.
Seeking Security: Pathogens, Open Access, and Genome Databases
investigative or security organizations in control of genome data. Those situations are beyond the scope of the committee’s charge. In situations where these specific exceptions do not apply the committee calls for unrestricted public access to genome data.
At the outset of the 21st century the possibility that life-science research might be perverted for destructive ends and that a pathogen could be deliberately enhanced and released to significant harm must be taken seriously. As understanding of host-pathogen interactions grows, national governments, subnational groups, or even individuals might well attempt to apply the growing power of biological science for destructive purposes, and it is possible that they could succeed. By the same token, as our understanding grows, the global health community has a greatly enhanced ability to produce new anti-infective drugs, vaccines, and diagnostic reagents.
The primary question before this committee is which policies regarding release of genome data about pathogens will provide the greatest overall biological security. That question takes into account both the possibility of deliberate pathogen enhancement and release and the fact that new and dangerous pathogens will continue to emerge naturally. After careful deliberation, the committee concluded that preserving open access to genome data and free exchange of knowledge and results that flow from the data will, by a substantial margin, increase biosecurity. Therefore the committee recommends no expansion in the amount of genome data which is classified and no change in the extent of material withheld from widespread public release, they also recommend that no registration system be imposed. The committee’s reasoning as it came to that conclusion focused on three sets of arguments:
Current Policies Are Effective. Unfettered, free access to the results of life-science research is the historic norm and has served science and society remarkably well. Open access allows life scientists everywhere to evaluate, interpret, adapt, and extend results from many fields of inquiry for use in their own work and thereby accelerates research and speeds the delivery of life-saving benefits that biological and medical research are so rapidly creating. Science builds on itself, and the sharing of methods and data allows scientists to learn from the work of others and to make unexpected connections. There is no obvious way to predict which scientists will benefit from access to which data, so restricting access poses a risk of slowing the progress of research. The current vigor in the life sciences depends on the free flow of data and ideas, and it is necessary if science is to deliver needed new biodefense capabilities.
Current policies allow for the most rapid and effective scientific response possible during an infectious-disease crisis, such as the SARS outbreak of 2003. At such times, when scientific and public-health