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Current situation

The current biosecurity situation is rapidly evolving and presents many new and unforeseen risks. Professor Raina Macintyre outlines these.
PROFESSOR RAINA MACINTYRE: So what’s changed since the Cold War? Well, genetic engineering. Really, it’s been a quantum change in synthetic genomics. There’s also been an information revolution. More accessible and available scientific knowledge, public access to methods or recipes for creating viruses, and there’s also the dark web and cybercrime coalescing with biothreat, making it easier than ever for groups to plan attacks and remain under the radar. Insider threat in the era of DURC is also a problem. And this proliferation of do-it-yourself biohacker labs. Social media and new means of grooming, recruiting, and infiltrating by terrorist organisations is also a growing concern.
And of course, once an epidemic occurs, there’s been such an exponential rise in global travel that travel itself becomes a vector for global spread of infectious diseases, once an epidemic is seeded. So it’s important to remember that infections can’t be contained within geographic borders. A lab accidental bioterrorism release in one country can affect the whole world. What we don’t have is global oversight. We don’t have global governance, global legal frameworks, ethical frameworks, or frameworks for research conduct that are applicable to the current threats. What we have is vertical systems of critical stakeholders, health, law enforcement, military, emergency management, agriculture, animal health, food. And we have country by country approaches to these threats.
So in summary, what’s changed in the landscape is we now have a perfect storm for biosecurity. A range of factors, such as increasing frequency of infectious diseases, insider threat, dual use research of concern, genetic engineering, and a lack of proper governance, as well as the risk of lab accidents. And this puts us in a situation where bioterrorism is a much greater threat than it has been in the past. In summary, bioterrorism is a rapidly evolving and changing threat. Travel and globalisation ensure rapid transmission of new infections around the world. We’re living in an era where we’ve had quantum changes in science and science has far outpaced our legal and regulatory frameworks.
We’re living in the last century in terms of our laws and our governance. And science has moved on. There are many stakeholders to consider, many sectors. And the world really has to adapt to this new reality. So I hope you think about that context as you go through the course. Thank you.
In this step, Professor MacIntyre discusses the current factors that are developing and emerging as key issues in biosecurity and bioterrorism – creating a "perfect storm” that is proving more and more complex and challenging to regulate.
Some of these factors are:
  • The accessibility of technology that can be used to develop biological agents
  • Newly developed methodologies for genetic manipulation
  • The convergence of technologies such as information technology and biotechnology to result in new risks not previously seen
  • The rise in human population and human movement – such as air travel and refugee movements – that become a new form of "vector”
  • A lack of effective governance at a global level
After watching this video, discuss the answer to this question in the comments section below:
Can you think of any other factors that may be leading to increased risks from biological agents?
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Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Public Health Dimensions

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