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Globalization, Biosecurity, and The Future of the Life Sciences
out this report and explores the broad-based nature of the threat posed by the rapid, unpredictable growth, and widespread dissemination of life sciences knowledge and associated technologies. This overview takes into account contemporary understanding of how naturally emerging pathogens cause disease and recently developed technologies that have opened up novel approaches to engineer potentially more harmful agents from both pathogenic and nonpathogenic microbes or viruses. In reviewing this material, the committee developed a heightened awareness of the tremendous potential of the benefits to be derived from the advancement of knowledge and technological growth in the life sciences. At the same time, committee members came to appreciate the magnitude of what hangs in the balance should society fail to address the potential for these technologies to be exploited to cause harm or, by overreacting and imposing unduly restrictive measures on activities in the life sciences, unwittingly muzzle the ability of the life sciences to contribute to future human good.
COMMITTEE CHARGE AND PROCESS
As discussed above and in more detail throughout the report, life sciences knowledge, materials, and technologies are advancing with tremendous speed, making it possible to identify and manipulate features of living systems in ways never before possible. On a daily basis and in laboratories around the world, biomedical researchers are using sophisticated technologies to manipulate microorganisms in an effort to understand how microbes cause disease and to develop better preventative and therapeutic measures against infectious disease. Plant biologists are applying similar tools in their studies of crops and other plants in an effort to improve agricultural yield and explore the potential for the use of plants as inexpensive platforms for vaccine, antibody, and other product manufacturing. Similar efforts are underway with animal husbandry. Scientists and engineers in many fields are relying on continuing advances in the life sciences to identify pharmaceuticals for the treatment of cancer and other chronic diseases, develop environmental remediation technologies, improve biodefense capabilities, and create new materials.
Moreover, other fields not traditionally viewed as biotechnologies—such as materials science, information technology, and nanotechnology—are converging with biotechnology in unforeseen ways and thereby enabling the development of previously unimaginable technological applications. It is undeniable that this new knowledge and these advancing technologies hold enormous potential to improve public health and agriculture, strengthen national economies, and close the development gap between resource-rich and resource-poor countries. However, as with all scientific revolutions, there is a potential dark side to the advancing