Developments in advancing and enabling areas of S&T provide both opportunities and potential challenges relevant to the BWC. One potential challenge posed by advancing S&T is the possibility that a novel development will fall outside the scope of the treaty. As discussed in Section 2.1, the committee did not identify any developments among those it surveyed that did so, a finding also reached by the scientific community at a workshop held prior to the Sixth BWC Review Conference in 2006 (Royal Society, 2006a,b). However, rapid advances in the life sciences on many fronts will likely continue to pose challenges for tracking and assessing future research progress—in establishing priorities for which areas to monitor, anticipating new combinations of advances drawn from progress in multiple fields, and expanding the types of expertise required to assess new developments.
Advances in S&T also provide opportunities to address specific BWC concerns. For example, knowledge derived from omics, systems biology, and immunology, and the high throughput tools, computational resources, and bioinformatics that enable these fields can support rational vaccine and drug design, along with efforts to better understand the immune system, pathogen virulence, and how to modulate these factors. This understanding is critical for effective vaccine and countermeasures development.
As has already been widely recognized, there is a potential dual nature to advances in many fields of the life sciences, because the information that could enable scientists to better understand and manipulate fundamental life processes could potentially also be misused to create harm, and a clear dividing line cannot be drawn between the knowledge, skills, and equipment that would be needed for beneficial or for harmful purposes (Atlas and Dando, 2006; Azzi, 2009; NRC, 2004; van der Bruggen, 2011). It has also been widely recognized that engaging the scientific community in discussions on the safety, security, and ethical implications of research are inherently international, given the global nature of the life sciences research enterprise. This global research capacity and growing numbers of international collaborations in the life sciences are discussed further in the following chapter.