Biosecurity risks and governance in the age of synthetic biology

Jon Arizti Sanz*, Garrett Dunlap*, Nicholas Nolan*, and Colin O’Leary 

Edited by Riley Drake and Friederike M. C. Benning

Article | Aug. 29 2022

*Email: jon96as@mit.edu, garrett_dunlap@g.harvard.edu, ncn@mit.edu

DOI: 10.38105/spr.whfig18hta

Highlights

  • Recent advances in synthetic biology have dramatically changed the biosecurity landscape in terms of potential agents and parties involved
  • Biological threat attribution technology is developing and has seen relative success, but is limited by its enforceability
  • International efforts have provided a source of threat mitigation, but gaps in compliance verification along with the rapid pace of technological development, pose ongoing issues to these agreements

Article Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the susceptibility of the United States and the world to biological threats. These threats can be unintentional, such as the result of zoonotic spillover or laboratory accidents, or deliberate, such as the release of a pathogen intended to be used as a biological weapon (or, bioweapons). While unintentional outbreaks are difficult to prevent, much effort has been spent to prevent the spread and use of bioweapons in the modern era. However, advances in technology threaten to outpace efforts to control bioweapon proliferation. This article reviews the changing nature of bioweapons, the governance structures established to prevent their spread, and the advances in technology that could deter and mitigate their use.

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Jon Arizti Sanz

Harvard-MIT Program in Health Sciences and Technology, Cambridge, MA

Garrett Dunlap

Program in Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Division of Medical Sciences, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA

Nicholas Nolan

Department of Biological Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA

Colin N. O’Leary

Program in Virology and Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA

Division of Genetics, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, MA

Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Cambridge, MA