Meetings & Conferences

Why Secure Synthetic Biology? (BioSysBio 2009)

Piers Millett
Biological Weapons Convention Implementation Support Unit, UN

Biology is inherently dual-use: can be used for beneficial and malignant purposes. Synbio is value neutral – it's the purpose it's put to that determines if it is bad or good. So, the focus of the solution is also on intent. The global ban on malign biology covers intent: covers all biological agent irrespective of how they're made. 10 years were spent on trying re-write the bioweapons ban, but the answer was inconclusive. Can we police every single synbio center in the world? Do we narrow our view somehow (production capacity, research area, funding type). Neither way is satisfactory. Hence, for now, top-down control is not practical at the moment – and wouldn't be until things are stable.

Kofi Annan: "Preventing bioterrorism requires innovative solutions specific to the nature of the threat. Biotechnology is not like nuclear technology … The approach to fighting the abuse of biotechnology … will have more in common with measures against cybercrime than with the work to control nuclear proliferation." This approach is user-centric rather than top-down.

In contrast to the top-down, a bottom-up approach is possible but difficult. Security people and biologists need to work together. The BWC is ready to help with information, access to expertise, and more.

Personal Comment: A very engaging speaker who has really nice pacing. On a ligher note, I liked: the audience participation, the videos, the pop culture references (Dr. Evil, Jurassic Park, Spiderman..).

Wednesday Session 2

Please note that this post is merely my notes on the presentation. They are not guaranteed to be correct, and unless explicitly stated are not my opinions. They do not reflect the opinions of my employers. Any errors you can happily assume to be mine and no-one else's. I'm happy to correct any errors you may spot – just let me know!

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