The tools to sequence genomes and synthesize DNA have advanced at an astonishing pace, not only transforming the way research is conducted, but also leading to concern that these tools could be used to engineer biological weapons. In addition, the genome and protein sequences for nearly major every human pathogen have been determined and are widely accessible. The possibility for misuse of these technologies first came to light in 2001 when Dr. Eckard Wimmer at SUNY Stony Brook synthesized poliovirus from scratch using small, commercially available pieces of DNA.
In 2005, a team of scientists was able to reconstruct the influenza virus responsible for the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. The results were published in Science and ignited an intense debate within the scientific community over whether or not the experiments should have been done and how future experiments should be handled. Not only were there dual-use concerns associated with the publication of the viral sequence, but also public health concerns surrounding the conditions under which the virus was handled and the threat of its escape into the environment. Not all of the response was negative, however, as some argued that the experiments could uncover the reasons why the Spanish flu pandemic was so deadly and could offer insight into avian flu pathology and how it might become transmissible in humans.