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

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Life Sciences and Related Fields: Trends Relevant to the Biological Weapons Convention.

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In 2006 the Royal Society, in cooperation with the International Council for Science, the InterAcademy Panel on International Issues (now IAP—the Global Network of Science Academies), and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, organized a workshop that surveyed trends in science and technology (S&T). The objective was to provide an independent contribution from the international scientific community to the Sixth Review Conference of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) that was held in December of that year.

At the time I was serving as chair of the Royal Society standing Committee on Scientific Aspects of International Security and so became chair of the S&T trends workshop. Among the lessons we learned from that workshop were that:

  • Inviting researchers to describe the “state of the science” in their fields was a useful and productive strategy. Subsequent discussions drew out the potential implications of these advances and remaining challenges for the BWC.
  • Input by technical experts from government and the policy community who engaged with the research scientists at the workshop was extremely valuable.
  • The provision of adequate time for small-group discussion was important to enable participants to explore topics in greater depth and detail than was possible in plenary sessions.
  • International scientific organizations can make a genuine contribution by assisting the BWC States Parties to gain a greater appreciation of the advances taking place in the life sciences and related fields, including the increasingly global nature of the research enterprise.

We applied the experience we garnered from this meeting when we embarked on organizing the second international workshop held in Beijing in November 2010. Again, this took the form of a partnership between several international scientific organizations and national academies.

The three main themes that emerged from this meeting resonate strongly with my own experience as an active researcher. Take the convergence of disciplines, for example; the major therapeutic advances in my own area (the pharmacology of inflammation) have come from the application of biotechnology, and in particular protein engineering, to the design of anti-inflammatory drugs. The “biologics,” as these agents are known, have provided relief to countless sufferers from arthritis and other debilitating diseases. In fact, the very title of my own department— Biochemical Pharmacology—was originally chosen to indicate the growing conjunction of two life sciences.

Scientific research has always had a strongly international nature. My own group collaborates with laboratories around the world to take advantage of complementary skills and training facilities that other laboratories can offer. While such endeavors were once dependent upon personal visits or postal exchanges, the advances in communications technologies now enable us to share data and discuss our work in virtual as much as in actual laboratory settings. The many similar international efforts described in the Beijing workshop therefore rang true to me as capturing the reality of a genuinely global scientific enterprise.

I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to serve as the chair of the international committee that organized the second workshop and produced the subsequent report presented here. Planning and mounting such a conference as this is a daunting undertaking, and there are many people I would like to thank.

My colleagues on the committee made numerous suggestions for topics and speakers, helping ensure the broad representation of fields and countries at the workshop. They then played essential roles as session chairs and in some cases as speakers themselves.

We also benefited greatly from the assistance of the staff of three national academies, in particular:

  • Neil Davison from the Royal Society;
  • Katherine Bowman, Kathryn Hughes, Jo Husbands, and Ben Rusek from the National Research Council of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS); and
  • Our hosts, Tao Xu, Institute Director, and members of his staff Lei Zhang, Xiaoke Xia, and Wei Yang from the Institute of Biophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

In addition to the practical work of the meeting, they served as rapporteurs for the plenary and breakout sessions, and contributed ideas for the final report. They were joined by James Revill of the University of Sussex, who served as an unpaid consultant and provided valuable support both during the workshop and to the NAS and Royal Society staff in the preparation of a subsequent factual summary of the workshop presentations, which was released in time for the Preparatory Committee of the BWC Review Conference in April 2011.

Everyone on the staff made significant contributions, but I do want to offer special thanks to Katherine Bowman. I first met Katie when she was a Christine Mirzayan Fellow at the National Research Council in 2006 and worked with us in organizing the first trends workshop. In addition to her work on the preparations for Beijing, Katie, along with Jo Husbands and Kate Hughes, made invaluable contributions to the drafting of this report. Their initial work made the committee’s task much easier, and I want to express my deep appreciation for their efforts.

Roderick Flower


Copyright © 2011, National Academy of Sciences.
Bookshelf ID: NBK91472


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