The BWC does not prohibit research on defenses against biological weapons, which a number of countries, including the United States and its major allies, have continued.

Of more direct relevance to bioterrorism, United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1540, passed in 2004 with strong support from the United States, imposes a binding international commitment on all UN members not to provide “any form of support to non-State actors that attempt to develop, acquire, manufacture, possess, transport, transfer or use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons” (UN 2004). UN member states must undertake and enforce domestic measures against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), related materials, and the means to deliver them, including specific measures such as effective border controls and physical security. “If implemented successfully, each state’s actions will significantly strengthen the international standards relating to the export of sensitive items and support for proliferators (including financing) and ensure that non-state actors, including terrorist and black-market networks, do not gain access to chemical, nuclear or biological weapons, their means of delivery or related materials” (Department of State 2009a).2

Evolution of U.S. Policies and Procedures for Research with Biological Agents and Toxins

Measures to Address Safety: Biosafety Guidelines

Over time, scientists have developed best practices for research with potentially dangerous biological agents or toxins—including but not limited to biological select agents and toxins (BSAT). Such practices are designed to ensure this research does not cause harm to those working in laboratories or to the broader public and environment because of accidents or accidental releases. In the United States, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) published its first edition of Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories (BMBL) in 1984; the fifth edition was published in 2007 (CDC/NIH 2007).3 The BMBL categorizes infectious agents and laboratory activities into four biosafety levels (BSL-1 through BSL-4) and establishes safety requirements for each level based on risk.4


UNSCR 1810, passed in 2008, extended the mandate of UNSCR 1540 for an additional three years and urges states to complete its implementation (UN 2008).


The World Health Organization (WHO) also produces a Laboratory Biosafety Manual. The first edition was published in 1983, and the third was released in 2004.


The risk groups defined by the NIH Guidelines for Research Involving Recombinant DNA Molecules provide another classification of agents and toxins based on risk. See Box 5-1 for more information.

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