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Globalization, Biosecurity, and The Future of the Life Sciences
power and global spread of these and other technologies. Every major new technology has been used for hostile purposes, and many experts believe it is naive to think that the extraordinary growth in the life sciences and its associated technologies might not be similarly exploited for malevolent purposes.2
This is true despite formal prohibitions against the use of biological weapons and even though, since antiquity, humans have reviled the use of disease for hostile purposes. In its most recent unclassified report on the future global landscape, the National Intelligence Council argued that, although most future (i.e., over the course of the next 15 years) terrorist attacks are expected to involve conventional weapons, a bioterrorist attack will likely occur by 2020.3 Official U.S. statements continue to cite around a dozen countries that are believed to have or to be pursuing biological weapons capabilities.4
The threat of bioterrorism, coupled with the global spread of expertise in biotechnology and biological manufacturing processes, raises concerns about how this advancing technological prowess could enable the creation and production of new biological weapons and agents of biological terrorism possessing unique and dangerous but largely unpredictable characteristics. The Committee on Advances in Technology and the Prevention of Their Application to Next Generation Biowarfare Threats, an ad hoc committee of the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, was constituted to examine current trends and future objectives of research in the life sciences, as well as technologies convergent with the life sciences enterprise from other disciplines, 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 convened a workshop in September 2004 at the Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública (National Institute of Public Health) in Cuernavaca, Mexico. The purpose of this information gathering 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. The results of this workshop helped inform the committee as it developed this report.