sciences in general. The rise of biotechnology, informatics, and automation has decreased the labor required and the time to knowledge acquisition, while increasing productivity and the number and types of questions that biologists can address. Such a convergence of biology and technology increases the pace of biological findings and the creation of new fields within biology in unpredictable ways. The discoveries and innovations that are happening today will precipitate advances over the next 30 years, and most likely even over the next 5 to 10 years—discoveries and innovations that have not even been envisioned at this time.

In addition, life sciences research occurs in an increasingly interdisciplinary and international environment. As George Church, Director of the Center for Computational Genetics at the Harvard Medical Center, pointed out at the May 2006 regional meeting, “Biology has a thousand journals and the Internet allows rapid information dispersion.”70 Just as computing and other technological innovations have created new industries and sectors toward the end of the 20th century and during the early part of the 21st, technology also has pushed the boundaries of the life sciences. Now, when research in the life sciences is considered, computational biology, systems biology, nanotechnology, and synthetic biology are at the forefront of such discussions. These fields blend biology—from whole organismal biology to microbiology—with computer science, the physical sciences, engineering, and mathematics.

Although the risk that pathogens will be used for harm has been around for centuries, the emerging global, fast-paced, and collaborative nature of the life sciences now makes protecting information, personnel, and materials from abuse that much more difficult. To effectively identify dual-use research of concern, and perhaps restrict it, techniques must be available to determine what types of biological agents could stand as threats, as well as what types of mathematics, software programs, physical materials, and computational tools could enhance biological threats. The ability to understand the ways that these emerging biology applications could be used for offensive purposes poses a formidable challenge because of the unpredictable nature of science and the ways in which new technologies that come along completely alter what can be accomplished.


George Church. 2006. Remarks made at the Committee on a New Government-University Partnership for Science and Security Northeast Regional Meeting at MIT. May 16. Available at Accessed February 14, 2007.

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