BOX S.3Findings

  1. The committee did not identify any discoveries that fundamentally altered the nature of life sciences research since 2006. However, advances in S&T on many fronts have increased our overall understanding and exploitation of biological systems, despite their daunting complexity.
  2. There has been particularly rapid progress in the power of, and access to, enabling technologies, especially those depending upon increased computing power. These include high throughput laboratory technologies and computational and communication resources. This has the following consequences:
    • Collaborations between individual investigators, global networks of researchers, and the formation of ”virtual laboratories” are growing trends in the life sciences.
    • Increasing access to sophisticated reagents such as standardized DNA “parts” and easy-to-use commercial kits and services has placed some hitherto advanced technologies within the reach of less highly trained practitioners, and has expanded the global spread of life sciences research and its industrial applications.
    • Although first class research continues to rely heavily upon tacit knowledge, the availability of web-based technologies is facilitating the transfer of tacit knowledge through the creation of worldwide formal or informal learning communities or partnerships.
    • These technologies reduce the barriers to the spread of S&T knowledge for responsible, educational purposes, thus creating more favorable conditions for international cooperation in the peaceful application of the life sciences.
    • At the same time, we must recognize that these same barriers also serve as impediments to misuse. This is an area that would benefit from more in-depth analysis to gain a more nuanced understanding of the developments and trends and their impact on the norm against biological weapons.
  3. Multiple disciplines, including the life, chemical, physical, mathematical, computational, and engineering sciences, are converging. This trend will continue and is relevant to the BWC as well as the CWC. The impact of this convergence on the existing arms control system must be better understood in order to draw conclusions about whether adaptations in the application of the existing regimes may be required, and if so, what they should be.
  4. The field of bioreactor research and the use of transgenic organisms to produce commercially or medically important proteins have seen impressive advances. These have reduced the time needed to produce proteins and have the potential to affect the scale of the facilities required. This has obvious implications for the BWC, for example with regard to the measures States Parties need to take to implement the BWC and to prevent the use of biological or toxin agents for hostile purposes.
  5. The development of microbial forensics illustrates one way that life sciences research from around the world can support the BWC and create better tools to investigate and discriminate between natural and deliberate disease outbreaks.
  6. Notable technical advances have been made at the level of individual-use biosensor detector systems, although there are limitations to what can be achieved given that sensor development must balance factors such as specificity, sensitivity, range of target molecules analyzed, and type of use.
  7. The combination of approaches including improved biosensors, epidemiological monitoring, vaccine research, forensics, and other laboratory investigations can contribute to effective disease detection, investigation, and response systems worldwide.
  8. These advances underscore the potential for more States Parties to contribute to the implementation of the BWC, for example by expanding their global public health and disease surveillance capabilities, or by playing leadership roles in capacity building in their regions.
  9. Certain scientific and technical roadblocks (e.g., drug delivery technologies) impede future progress, but once overcome, would presage a phase of rapid development. The international scientific community can play a useful role in tracking trends and developments in S&T. Its continued engagement with the BWC is essential to identifying these key scientific hurdles and when they have been overcome.

From: Summary

Cover of Life Sciences and Related Fields
Life Sciences and Related Fields: Trends Relevant to the Biological Weapons Convention.
National Research Council (US) Committee on Trends in Science and Technology Relevant to the Biological Weapons Convention: An International Workshop.
Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2011.
Copyright © 2011, National Academy of Sciences.

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