an ad hoc committee of the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, is examining current trends and future objectives of research in the life sciences, as well as converging technologies from other fields such as materials science and nanotechnology, that may enable the development of a new generation of biological threats over the next five to ten years, with the aim of identifying ways to anticipate, identify and mitigate these dangers.
As part of its study, the committee held a workshop at the Instituto Nacional de Salud Publica (National Institute of Public Health) in Cuernavaca, Mexico, in September 2004. The purpose of the workshop was to sample global perspectives on the current advancing technology landscape. Experts from different fields and from around the world presented their diverse outlooks on advancing technologies and forces that drive technological progress; local and regional capacities for life sciences research, development, and application (both beneficial and nefarious); national perceptions and awareness of the risks associated with advancing technologies; and strategic measures that have been taken, or could or should be taken, to address and manage the potential misapplication of technology(ies) for malevolent purposes. This report summarizes the formal and informal discussions held at the workshop.
Rather than an exhaustive analysis, the workshop was designed to take a limited number of snapshots of the current global technological landscape, the forces that drive it, and new capabilities that may emerge from it, particularly with respect to the dual-use risk of advancing technologies (as used in this discussion, the “dual-use risk” refers to beneficial applications that have the potential to be exploited for malevolent purposes). The workshop was not intended to spawn recommendations or conclusions. The information gathered, as summarized in these five chapters, will inform the committee in developing its report on advancing technologies and the prevention of their application to next-generation bioterrorism and biological warfare threats. The final release of that report is planned for late 2005.
The global technology landscape is shifting dramatically and rapidly, both in terms of the types of technological advances being made and the geographical spread and distribution of these advances. Although some of the most recent advances in biotechnology, such as control of gene expression through RNA interference or the development of entirely new genes using combinatorial approaches coupled with biological selection, remain relatively restricted in their use, the proceedings from this workshop made it abundantly clear that advances in genomic sequencing, com-