This document offers a summary of the substantive presentations during an international workshop, Trends in Science and Technology Relevant to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, held 31 October – 3 November, 2010 at the Institute of Biophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. It is meant to provide scientists and other technical experts with factual information about the range and variety of topics discussed at the workshop, which may be of interest to national governments and non-governmental organizations as they begin to prepare for the 7th Review Conference of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) in 2011. The more extensive final report being prepared by an international committee under the auspices of the National Research Council (NRC) of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (see below) will be published soon. The final report will incorporate the factual material contained in this summary, include additional detail about the “state of the science” for some of the topics covered by the workshop, discuss the potential implications of scientific advances for both the scope and operations of the BWC, and present the committee’s findings and conclusions.

The Beijing workshop reflected the continuing engagement by national academies, international scientific organizations, and individual scientists and engineers in considering the biosecurity implications of developments in the life sciences and assessing trends in science and technology (S&T) relevant to nonproliferation.1 The workshop was planned by an international committee appointed by the NRC and convened in collaboration with IAP – The Global Network of Science Academies, the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (IUBMB), the International Union of Microbiological Societies (IUMS), and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The statement of task for the project may be found in Box 1; the members of the committee, the workshop agenda, and the participant list are included in the Appendix to this summary.2

Box Icon

BOX 1

STATEMENT OF TASK. An ad hoc committee with significant international membership will be organized by the NRC to: Plan an international workshop to survey key trends in areas of science & technology (S&T) that might be potentially relevant (more...)

The workshop provided an opportunity for the scientific community to discuss the implications of recent developments in S&T for multiple aspects of the BWC. For example, a continuing question for the treaty’s review conferences is whether scientific developments yield new or novel types of agents or materials that are not captured by Article I, which defines the scope of the treaty?3 More broadly, however, developments in S&T also affect the other key articles of the convention that provide for the operation of the treaty, such as the adequacy of national implementation of the convention through national policies and regulatory systems, the capabilities to carry out investigations of alleged use of biological weapons, and the design of international cooperation to ensure that all States Parties (i.e., those who have signed and ratified the agreement), have access to the benefits of peaceful applications of biology.

The summary follows the structure of the plenary sessions at the workshop. It begins with introductory material about the BWC and current examples of the types and modes of science advice available to the BWC and other international nonproliferation and disarmament agreements, in particular the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The S&T material begins with talks on areas having the potential to impact the design, fabrication, and production of biological weapons, continues with a session on dispersal science and delivery technologies, and next moves into scientific developments relevant to detection, identification, and monitoring. Later sections of the workshop focused on medical countermeasures, public health, and agricultural biosecurity, and finally conclude with presentations on ways in which new methods of collaboration are influencing scientific exchange along with a discussion of risk communication. The summary includes only a very brief description of the some of the post-presentation discussions held during the plenary sessions – and does not include an account of the smaller breakout groups – since these were intended to inform the committee’s findings and conclusions and will be reflected in the final report.

By necessity, the workshop was able to present only a sampling of current research in relevant areas of science and technology, and was strengthened by being able to draw on the diverse perspectives and active engagement of the participants through both plenary and breakout discussion sessions. Almost 80 scientists and policy makers from 28 countries and several international organizations took part in the workshop, with a mix of scientists and engineers currently engaged in research and technical experts who could help draw out potential implications for the BWC. The speakers for the S&T sessions were asked to focus on the “state of the science” with regard to their topics; in a few cases they also offered additional comments on the implications and applications for the BWC.

Footnotes

1

A discussion of previous engagement by the life sciences community can be found in Chapter 1 of the 2nd International Forum on Biosecurity: Report of an International Meeting, Budapest, Hungary, March 30–April 2, 2008 (NRC, 2009a) and a list of activities undertaken by national science academies and international scientific organizations is also available in Appendix C of Challenges and Opportunities for Education About Dual Use Issues in the Life Sciences (NRC, 2011a).

2

This material, as well as copies of many of the PowerPoint slides used by the speakers, is also available online at http://dels​.nas.edu/Past-Events​/Trends-Science-Technology-Relevant​/DELS-BLS-09-06.

3

Article 1 includes “Microbial or other biological agents, or toxins whatever their origin or method of production, of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes” (http:​//unhq-appspub-01​.un.org/UNODA/TreatyStatus​.nsf/44e6eeabc9436b78852568770078d9c0​/ffa7842e7fd1d0078525688f0070b82d?OpenDocument). An account of decisions taken at various review conferences reaffirming the capacity of Article 1 may be found at http://www​.unog.ch/80256EDD006B8954​/(httpAssets)​/699B3CA8C061D490C1257188003B9FEE​/$file/BWC-Background_Inf.pdf.