Authors: (Markus Schmidt, Gregor Giersch, Organisation for International Dialogue and Conflict Management Biosafety Working Group, Vienna, Austria)
Abstract: Progress in life sciences has given rise to fears that the related technologies could be used for malicious purposes. In particular the novel approaches and technologies that evolve from synthetic biology have alarmed policymakers and the security community and stimulated scientific, regulatory and public debate. Blurring the lines between chemistry, biology and engineering, synthetic biology enables an ever more intentional design of genetic information, biological parts and systems. This is highly relevant for biosecurity because the very idea of biological weapons roots in the possibility to control the impact and functioning of harmful biological systems. Synthetic biology clearly has the potential to help design and build so far unknown biological systems and molecular structures with very specific characteristics and impacts. As a second concern, one that seems more feasible based on the current state of the art, this field may also dramatically increase the accessibility of select agents and pathogenic organisms, thereby intensifying the proliferation threat. Especially DNA synthesis technologies reduce the hurdles to obtaining pathogens by transforming the issue successively from a question of physical access to a mere question of access to the sequence information.
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