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 power and global spread of these and other technologies. For millennia, every major new technology has been used for hostile purposes, and most experts believe it naive to think that the extraordinary growth in the life sciences and its associated technologies might not similarly be exploited for destructive purposes.

This is true despite formal prohibitions against the use of biological weapons and even though, since antiquity, humans have reviled the use of disease-causing agents for hostile purposes. In its most recent unclassified report on the future global landscape, the National Intelligence Council predicted that a major terrorist attack employing biological agents will likely occur by 2020, although it suggested that most future (i.e., over the course of the next 15 years) terrorist attacks are expected to involve conventional weapons. Official U.S. statements continue to cite around a dozen countries that are believed to have or to be pursuing a biological weapons capability. In addition to the efforts by terrorists or states with malevolent intent, we must be concerned about the grave harm that may result from misuse of the life sciences and related technologies by individuals or groups that are simply careless or irresponsible.

The continuing threat of bioterrorism, coupled with the global spread of expertise and information in biotechnology and biological manufacturing processes, has raised concerns about how advancing technological prowess could enable the creation and production of new threats of biological origin 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.

Specifically, the charge to the committee was to:

  1. Examine current scientific trends and the likely trajectory of future research activities in public health, life sciences, and biomedical and materials science that contain applications relevant to the development of “next generation” agents of biological origin five to ten years into the future.

  2. Evaluate the potential for hostile uses of research advances in ge-

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement