While RNAi provides an extraordinary tool to study the mechanisms of disease, it also has dual-use potential. Cells express many genes that are necessary for regular growth and development that could be knocked down by RNAi. For instance, in Hannon’s experiment to show RNAi can work in a mammalian system, the Trp53 tumor suppressor gene was targeted. What is intended to be a simple loss-of-function experiment to test RNAi essentially creates a pathogen that causes mice to develop cancer.
It is easy to identify the biosecurity risks associated with select agent work, and therefore this type of work has been the focus of many control measures. However, it is important to realize that even biological experiments that don’t involve select agents, including routine lab procedures, can have dual-use implications. Progress in genetic manipulation and new biological techniques will continue, and it is necessary to continually examine existing control measures to keep up with new technologies and experimental techniques.