The danger is too great to allow unrestricted access

By Leonid F. Ryabikhin, January 3, 2008

There appears to be some consensus. As Iris Hunger wrote: “Is the availability of genetic
information dangerous? Certainly.”

Our lives are full of threats and dangers. But each threat differs from the others and ranges
from minimally to extremely dangerous. Humans typically elaborate rules and regulations to secure
people and the environment from extremely negative consequences. We have driving safety, flight
safety, and many other examples of “safeties.” Yet, it is hard to compare driving safety with
biosafety. Humans have coexisted and fought with microbes since their very beginning. Thus,
biosafety became one of the highest priorities for human survival, and we continue to develop
measures to protect ourselves from the huge variety of biothreats.

States and scientists have attempted to provide for the physical and biological security of
dangerous pathogens. The absence of large-scale bioattacks and the lack of evidence that terrorists
possess biological weapons are positive results of such measures. But we should not underestimate
the possible malevolent use of any of the diverse pathogens existing in nature or the engineering
of pathogens in laboratories.

Establishing a set of rules and procedures for regulating and controlling access to genetic
information will help to create a compromise between free access to genetic information and
security needs. Iris Hunger introduced some ideas, but this problem needs broader and deeper
consideration by life scientists and security experts.

In the meantime, I would like to echo Gigi Kwik Gronvall’s call for hospital readiness and the
rapid production of medical countermeasures. National health care systems must have highly
effective response measures in place to use against existing and emerging infectious diseases of
natural character. Such systems will also work against deliberate bioattacks.


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