May 18, 2024

Biologists urged to prevent misuse of their work by terrorists

Physicists learned their lesson with the atomic bomb, but biologists are only now beginning to realise that their work could be immensely destructive in the wrong hands. A Geneva conference this month is urging scientists to censor their work with a voluntary code of conduct. Several recent papers have contained material which could have been used by terrorists. In 2001, for instance, an Australian team accidentally created a deadly variety of mousepox by removing a single gene and reported its work in a journal. In 2002 the journal Science published a paper showing how to synthesis the polio virus from scratch. A US expert commission has recently recommended that universities and research institutions set up committees to police researchers.