Federation of American Scientists Case Studies in Dual Use Biological Research Module 2.0: Poliovirus Case Study
Topic: Discussion Subtopic: Biosecurity Control Measures

Control Efforts: Chemical and Biological Weapons Image width=

There have been a host of efforts to control the proliferation of biological weapons and to regulate research that could be misused for nefarious purposes.

The use of chemical and biological weapons was prohibited in 1925 by the Geneva Protocol following the use of chemical weapons during World War I. However, it was not ratified by the US Senate until 50 years later and did not prohibit such weapons from being developed. The Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) on the other hand, was enacted in 1975 and does prohibit the production and stockpiling of bioweapons. In 1974 and 1975 growing concerns over the safe and ethical manipulation of genetic material using recently developed recombinant DNA techniques prompted both the Asilomar Conference and the formation of the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC). Concerns were also raised with respect to academic freedom and the "classification" of sensitive research. This led first to the 1982 Corson Report and was followed in 1985 with the National Security Decision Directive-189 (NSDD-189).

Following the anthrax attacks of October 2001, Congress took a series of legislative actions directed at securing potentially dangerous biological agents, including the Patriot Act and the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002. At the time, the government also expressed concerns over the conduct and publication of what was construed as "sensitive research," such as the mousepox experiments in Australia and the polio synthesis work of Dr. Wimmer at the State University of New York. Many in the scientific community interpreted these concerns as ones that would prompt further regulation of research unless the scientific community took the initiative to establish guidelines and reviews.

Three major actions in biosecurity shaped much of the current approach: the issuance of the “Statement on Scientific Publication and Security” by journal publishers; the formation of the Fink committee by the National Research Council to produce a set of recommendations for action by the scientific community and the government; and the establishment of a National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB).


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