Statement by the Biochemical Security 2030 Project, University of Bath to the Meeting of States Parties (2014) to the 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapon Convention

Mr. Chairman and Distinguished Representatives,

It is a great honour to have the opportunity to contribute to this meeting. I am speaking today on behalf of the Biochemical Security 2030 project. This project is led by Professor David Galbreath from the University of Bath.[i]

Mr. Chairman,

Last month, our project held a three-day event entitled ‘Biological and Chemical Security in an Age of Responsible Innovation’.[ii] This meeting brought together a range of experts to discuss how responsible innovation could be fostered at an international, national and local level. A full report of this meeting will be made available on our project website.[iii]

Today, I wish to draw attention to some key ideas which were discussed at this meeting, which also build upon our work over the previous 18 months.

At the international level, it is apparent that States Parties need to draw upon experiences during the current Inter-sessional Process in order to consider how States Parties can ensure that science and technology review is more action orientated during future Inter-sessional Processes. In particular, I would like to draw attention to a recent publication from our project by Dr Catherine Rhodes,[iv] which outlines potential lessons for the BTWC from other international organisations in relation to science and technology review. This paper, as well as a series of other papers, are focused on the current needs of the biological and chemical weapons conventions and are available on our website.[v]

At the national level, it is clear that, where addressed, states have developed a variety of strategies to deal with biosecurity challenges emerging from cutting edge science and technology. Any successful process of S&T review at the international level should help foster the sharing of information, national level experiences and good practice in the area of science and technology assessment. I would also like to take this opportunity to draw attention to the recent in depth report produced by the German Ethics Council, entitled ‘Biosecurity — Freedom and Responsibility of Research’ which may stimulate thinking for others.

Finally, at local level, our meeting identified universities as a potential starting point for those seeking to foster a culture of responsibility within the life sciences in national contexts. Universities are not only producers of research and scientists, but can also act as responsible consumers of cutting edge biotechnologies and other products used as part of research (such as synthetic DNA). As responsible consumers, universities can potentially exert a positive influence on some aspects of industry. We also found that further education and outreach were needed in order to engage the relevant scientific, industry and professional communities, including biological safety professionals.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Dr. Brett Edwards,

Professor David Galbreath,

Department of Politics Languages and International Studies, University of Bath

Delivered Monday, 1st December 2014

[i] This UK based initiative has been supported by funding from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory as well as the Economic and Social Research Council as part of the Research Councils UK Global Uncertainties initiative.

[ii] This event was held at The Royal Society, London. The event took place 19th-21st November 2014.


[iv] Rhodes, C (2014) BTWC: Learning from Alternative Models of Science and Technology Review, Biochemical Security 2030 Policy Paper Series, No. 8, University of Bath. Available online,

[v] For further information on discussions of S&T review processes in the run up to the Seventh Review Conference please see: as well as Alexander Kelle, Malcolm R Dando, and Kathryn Nixdorff, S&T in the Third BWC Inter-Sessional Process: Conceptual Considerations and the 2012 ISP Meetings. (University of Bradford: Bradford Disarmament Research Unit, 2013), A number of relevant papers are also available on the UN BWC website at

Cover image,  Courtesy of the UN image archives

Dual-use for Dummies (now with videos)

Dual-use for Dummies

Dr Supatra Marsh, BBSRC Policy Fellow at the Society of Biology, is organising Policy Lates: Dodging a biological bullet – what can we learn from the US and Europe about Biosecurity?

During my BBSRC science policy fellowship at the Society of Biology I have been organising the next Policy Lates event focussing on dual-use research. Just in case there are any of you out there that are asking the question ‘what is dual-use research?’ I have tried to write a beginner’s guide to dual-use and biosecurity; dual-use for dummies if you will!

According to the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) in the United States, dual-use or dual-use research of concern (DURC) is defined as “research that, based on current understanding, can be reasonably anticipated to provide knowledge, products, or technologies that could be directly misapplied by others to pose a threat to public health and safety, agricultural crops and other plants, the environment or material“ 1. In other words, the scientific research being done has a dual-use; the initial purpose of it being carried out in the first place – usually to benefit the public’s health or for the advancement of science – and also an unintended use such as bioterrorism.

A much publicised example of DURC came to the fore in 2012 when two papers were published on research into the bird flu virus, H5N1. These so-called “gain-of-function” studies detailed genetic descriptions of mutations that conferred the virus with the ability to be transmitted between mammals. This research sparked controversy because of the risk of misuse of this information which could lead to disastrous consequences such as accidental or intentional release of the modified virus. Gain-of-function experiments result in enhanced capability – in this case the bird flu virus was genetically modified giving it the ability to cross the species-barrier i.e. pass from mammal to mammal whereas before it was only transmissible between birds.

B0006927 Influenza virus

The aim of these gain-of-function experiments is to try and stay one step ahead of the virus which naturally mutates at a rapid rate. These experiments confirmed that the virus could indeed evolve to become transmissible between mammals. This knowledge means that the science community is arguably better informed about how to deal with this situation, should it occur. This has implications for vaccine development and improved surveillance.

Scientists pride themselves on the ability to freely share knowledge for scientific advancement. However if publications of dual-use research are open access this means that potentially anyone could get their hands on this information and it could be used to cause harm such as by developing bioweapons. The NSABB recommended that the mutational sequences be redacted in the publication of the bird flu gain-of-function experiments. This goes against the scientific ethos of openly sharing information, repeating experiments to confirm reliability of results and providing evidence to support the conclusions of the research. In 2012, the NSABB reversed their decision and both papers were published in their entirety in Nature and Science.

So the question now is – how shall we move forward? The US has recently announced a halt on funding of ‘gain-of-function’ experiments on dangerous microbes or toxins, including influenza, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) 2. This is to provide time to do a robust risk-benefit analysis. Scientists warn that seasonal flu vaccines and antiviral drug development will be hampered by this moratorium 3.

There is also the problem of inconsistencies in biosecurity regulations in different countries. This risk-benefit assessment process should not only concern the US but be an international undertaking. The consequences of this research will be global, whether it be beneficial or harmful. Will we be able to act in time to dodge this potential ‘biological bullet’?

This issue was the the focus of a Society of Biology Policy Lates event, which will brought together biosecurity experts from the US and Europe to discuss the situation in their countries. Videos of the talks are below:

Event details, Policy Lates: Dodging a biological bullet – what can we learn from the US and Europe about Biosecurity? Thursday 20th November 2014, 18:00-21:00 – Charles Darwin House, 12 Roger Street


This article orginally appeared on the Society of Biology Website and was Posted by on October 27, 2014

Cover Image; ASMBiodefense 2012 – H5N1 Research Discussion, Taken on February 29th. Some rights reserved Chris Condayan for Microbe World.