Advances in Biotechnology are occurring at an unprecedented rate, opening doors for seeking improvements in important fields such as health, food and environment. However, rapidly advancing capabilities, decreasing costs and widely expanding access to and participation in modern biotechnology simultaneously increase the likelihood of safety and security risks that could endanger public health and the environment.
UNICRI, in collaboration with European Commission, has recently produced a report, which assesses the risks related to advances in biotechnology. The report - “Security Implications of Synthetic Biology and Nanobiotechnology - A Risk and Response Assessment of Advances in Biothecnology” was produced using a scenario based approach, wherein different technology risk scenarios were developed and presented before biosciences and security experts to deliberate on the scenarios technological feasibility over time, the level of difficulty regarding required capabilities, and practicability from a perpetrator's point of view.
The report, while listing certain specific response options, also suggests that the nature of progress in biotechnology is going to negate the ability to control the technology with traditional means and as a result it is important to tackle the problem by developing an approach which goes beyond such traditional confines.
As a follow up to the report UNICRI is thus also in the process of initiating an International Observatory that will facilitate the enhancement of Biosecurity by bringing together a large range of stakeholders to monitor security relevant biotechnological advances, identify and promote best practices, and offer policy options. The group of stakeholders will work towards creating a shared responsibility of politics, industry, science and society to reinforce the culture of safety and security while ensuring that beneficial research is not impeded.