conducted joint activities under a variety of less formal arrangements, ranging from handshakes between individual scientific leaders to institution-to-institution memoranda of understanding.
Collaborative efforts have been broad ranging. For example, they have extended from (a) enhancing biosafety systems at Russian research centers, to (b) fusing biology and chemistry in exploring molecular structures in the laboratories of both countries, to (c) investigating pre-historic microbes in remote areas. The two governments have coordinated laboratory and field investigations to upgrade the systems that help sustain the health of human populations, enhance the value of agricultural resources, and preserve the ecological landscape more broadly. They have collaborated in addressing diseases that can cross international borders—for example, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), polio, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), and avian influenza. The joint efforts of individual scientists in preserving important plant, animal, and insect populations, including unique species found throughout the vast territories of Russia, Alaska, and the southwestern United States, are well known within the international biological community.
Following the splintering of the Soviet Union into 15 independent states in 1991, officials in Washington, Brussels, and other capitals initiated a series of bilateral and multilateral programs to help contain the loss or misdirection of Russian scientific expertise. Of particular concern was the possibility that underemployed and poorly paid scientists who had worked in the Russian defense sector might accept financial support from nefarious sources that would pay generously for access to technological expertise that could be used for destructive purposes. Initially, international attention concentrated on the possibility of nuclear scientists going astray; but Russian scientists with biological skills were quickly included in fast-growing cooperative programs to prevent misdirection of advanced technology capabilities. Soon many Russian chemical and aerospace scientists also became involved in international programs to redirect careers to civilian activities of scientists with defense-related experience.
At the same time, there were outcries from U.S. colleagues of prominent Russian scientists, along with loud voices of concern in Europe, that it was essential to save critical components of Russian science, and particularly civilian-oriented basic research capabilities of international interest that had been developed during the Soviet era. The U.S. government responded to the calls from the Russian and U.S. scientific communities for international support by establishing cooperative programs that soon encompassed many aspects of the life sciences, along with programs in other fields. As was to be expected at the time of economic chaos in Russia, the activities initially took on donor-beneficiary characteristics of foreign assistance programs.
Since the mid-1990s, bioengagement has involved many thousands of Russian and hundreds of American scientists, engineers, doctors, industrialists, technicians, and other specialists with important skills. Most participants have been