Mar 11, 2010

Biosecurity webcast

A meeting at Wilson International Center for Scholars discusses the issues of biosecurity in the context of synthetic biology and DIY biology (http://wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?topic_id=1414&fuseaction=topics.event_summary&event_id=601732). Here are some notes from their webcast.

Jason Bobe, co-founder of DIYbio:
  • Synthetic biology is on the rise, there are a lot of people who are interested in "doing" biology.
  • DIYbio is a community of people who are involved in genetic experiments.
  • There are different groups of people involved: entrepreneurs, amateurs, hackers, artists, moonlighters, educators, etc.
  • People from DIYbio are working on projects such as doing genetic self-testing, trying to replicate studies done at university labs, generating ideas.
  • Possible futures - biosurveillance, or distributed biosecurity, where everybody has the ability to evaluate the security of water; competitions among non-institutional participants in biology; involvement with synthetic biology.
  • Question about biosecurity: Who gets access to the equipment and techniques? Amateurs want to engage with synthetic biology, but this poses some issues. Possible models to look at: other amateur communities such as scuba diving and its practices of licensing, certification, etc.
Edward You, a special agent with the FBI Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, Countermeasures Unit, Bioterrorism Team:
  •  Challenges of synbio biosecurity - living organisms are harder to manage and contain; multiple communities and cultures bring misconceptions and misperceptions
  • Increased restrictions may not work, we need a culture of responsibility - something like neighborhood watch, when everybody watches everybody else.
  • FBI Synthetic Biology Tripwire Initiative - mechanism to prevent unauthorized purchase of dangerous pathogens or toxins by contacting FBI WMD coordinators, who then report to WMD directorate and all related agencies.
  • FBI engages in activities of mitigating the potential risks by outreach, partnerships, and information sharing.