Laurie Garrett, writing in Foreign Policy, identifies a dark side to recent advancements in synthetic biology. Massive laboratories, containing bio-engineered superviruses and the worst of the worst human pathogens, are going nearly free of regulation and, as a result, are increasingly turning up with glaring security gaps:
In every one of the dozens of bioterrorism meetings I have attended over the last three decades, experts have stated unequivocally that the worst-case outbreak scenario would be smallpox in the hands of bad guys. And the most alarming other microbial possibilities that follow? Well, anthrax was always somewhere in the top five.
And this is why, as political leaders were repeatedly told over the years, scientists needed to safely store these dangerous microbes in high-security labs, conducting their work with these germs under the tightest security possibleIvanovsky Institute of Virology in Moscow, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia.to ensure protection of public safety. The safest laboratories, we were repeatedly informed, were the
But last week, while most Americans were taking time off to celebrate the July Fourth holiday, scientists were secretly scrambling at the NIH and CDC to identify, seal, and transport six vials of smallpox that were discovered in a storeroom at the National Institutes of Health, tipped over on their sides, cotton stoppers protruding.