Bioweapons and Dual-Use Research of Concern
Nariyoshi Shinomiya*, Masamichi Minehata**, and Malcolm Dando***
*Department of Integrative Physiology and Bio-Nano Medicine, National Defense Medical College, 3-2 Namiki, Tokorozawa, Saitama 359-8513, Japan
**Bradford Disarmament Research Centre, University of Bradford, West Yorkshire, BD7 1DP, UK
***Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, West Yorkshire, BD7 1DP, UK
The Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) strictly prohibits State Parties from developing, producing, stockpiling or otherwise acquiring or retaining microbial and other biological agents that have no justification for peaceful purposes. At the time the convention was concluded, progress in the life sciences received little attention. Recent technological advances, especially in biotechnology, have brought attention, however, to the issue of dual-use research of concern (DURC). Dual-use research is defined as biological research with a legitimate scientific purpose that may, if misused, pose a biological threat to public health and/or national security. The most important and burdensome point of DURC is that we cannot escape the dual-use dilemma existing in all research activities. The DURC concept is an old but in a sense a new issue to be dealt with. Here we focus on the bioweapons and DURC – a subject that has received attention worldwide. In this review, we start with an overview of the historical development of bioweapons and then discuss their prohibition regimes focusing mainly on the BWC framework. Dramatic progress in biotechnology/recombinant DNA technology around the turn of the century brought a new experimental paradigm and affected the direction in which the life sciences should go. The Fink report and Lemon-Relman report have presented potential options for the healthy development of the life sciences. Exploring several important DURC case studies helps in understanding the nature of the dual-use dilemma more deeply. DURC in the area of the life sciences has been expanding broadly and has reached the neurosciences. Synthetic biology has introduced innovative approaches in creating novel living organisms. The convergence of chemistry and biology has become an inevitable stream in the recent development of the life sciences. Under these circumstances, the responsibility of scientists is becoming increasingly important. To deal appropriately with dual-use issues, risks and benefits must first be evaluated fairly and clearly, which makes the development of DURC evaluation methods an urgent issue. Both top-down approaches such as rules for smoothly processing of research, funding policies, and oversight mechanisms, and bottom-up approaches, i.e., researcher-oriented self-governance need to be mutually harmonized so that the life sciences may be applied more securely. The education of life scientists and the importance of outreach to society are also key means to success.
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