Home' Technology Review : March April 2006 Contents TECHNOLOGY REVIEW /
FEATURE STORY 53
sciences would loom ever larger in national-security matters
and inter national a airs. Poste noted, "If you actually look
at the history of the assimilation of technological advance
into the calculus of military a airs, you cannot nd a his-
torical precedent in which dramatic new technologies that
redress military inferiority are not deployed."
Har vard s Matthew Meselson has said the same and added
that a world in which the new biotechnology was deployed
militarily "would be a world in which the very nature of con-
ict had radically changed. Therein could lie unprecedented
opportunities for violence, coercion, repression, or subjuga-
tion." Meselson adds, "Governments might have the objec-
tive of controlling very large numbers of people. If you have a
situation of permanent con ict, people begin contemplating
things that the ordinary rules of con ict don t allow. They
begin to view the enemy as subhuman. Eventually, this leads
to viewing people in your own culture as tools."
What measures could mitigate both the near and the
more distant threats of bioweaponry? BioShield, as it is now
constituted, will not protect us from genetically engineered
pathogens. A number of radical solutions (like somehow
boosting the human immune system through generic immu-
nomodi ers) have been proposed, but even if pursued, they
might take years or decades to develop.
More immediately, no one has a good idea about what
should be done. Some scientists hope to arrest the spread
of bioweapons knowledge. Rutgers s Richard Ebright
wants to reverse what he believes to be counterproductive
in the funding of biodefense. More dramatically, Har vard s
George Church is calling for all DNA synthesizers to be
registered internationally. "This wouldn t be like regulat-
ing guns, where you just give people a license and let them
do whatever they want," he says. "Along with the license
would come responsibilities for reporting." Furthermore,
Church believes that just as all DNA synthesizers should
be registered, so should any molecular biologists research-
ing the select agents or the human immune sys-
tem response to pathogens. "Nobody s forced to
do research in those areas. If someone does, then
they should be willing to have a very transparent,
spotlighted research career," Church says.
But enactment of Church s proposals would repre-
sent an unprecedented regulation of science. Worse,
not all nations would comply. For instance, Russian
biologists, some of whom are known to have worked
at Biopreparat, have reportedly trained molecular-
biology students at the Pasteur Institute in Tehran.
More fundamentally, arresting the progress of
biological-weapons research is probably impracti-
cal. Biological knowledge is all one, and therapies
cannot be easily distinguished from weapons. For
example, a general trend in biomedicine is to use
viral vectors in gene therapy.
Robert Carlson, senior scientist in the Genomation
Lab and the Microscale Life Sciences Center in the
Department of Electrical Engineering at the Univer-
sity of Washington, believes there are two options.
On the one hand, we can clamp down on biodefense
research, stunting our ability to respond to biological
threats. Alternatively, we can continue to push the
boundaries of what is known about how pathogens
can be manipulated---spreading expertise in building biologi-
cal systems, for better and for worse, through experiments
like Buller s assembly of a mousepox-IL4 recombinant---so
we are not at a mortal disadvantage. One day, we must hope,
technology will suggest an answer.
Serguei Popov has lived with these questions longer than
most. When I asked him what could be done, he told me,
"I don t know what kind of behavior or scienti c or political
measures would guarantee that the new biology won t hurt
us." But the vital rst step, Popov said, was for scientists to
overcome their reluctance to discuss biological weapons.
"Public awareness is very important. I can t say it s a solu-
tion to this problem. Frankly, I don t see any solution right
now. Yet rst we have to be aware."
Mark Williams is a contributing writer to Technology Review.
In 1987, Biopreparat conducted a "pathogens class" at its research
complex in Obolensk. Serguei Popov is in the back row, far right.
COURTESY OF SERGUEI POPOV
Links Archive December 2005 January 2006 May June 2006 Navigation Previous Page Next Page