Synthetic Biology, Dual Use Research, and Possibilities for Control

  • Eckard WimmerEmail author
Conference paper
Part of the NATO Science for Peace and Security Series A: Chemistry and Biology book series (NAPSA)


The anthrax attack on the human population in the United States in 2001/2002 may be considered the naissance of modern bioterrorism. This attack, e.g. the planned killing by means of deadly microorganisms (Bacillus anthracis) caused enormous public concern, because, numerous other deadly agents, now known as “select agents”, occur in nature and are available for misuse. The anthrax attack coincided with the first report in 2002 of the de novo synthesis in the test tube of a pathogenic human virus, poliovirus, that was equally shocking because it indicated that dangerous infectious agents could be produced in laboratories outside of government control. These events were synchronous with the advent of a new discipline, Synthetic Biology, which was an emerging area of research that can broadly be described “as the design and construction of novel artificial biological pathways, organisms or devices, or the redesign of existing natural biological systems.” The synthesis of viruses, or more broadly expressed: each experiment in Synthetic Biology, fits the definition of “Dual Use Research” – the dual use dilemma in which the same technologies can be used for the good of humans and misused for bioterrorism. In view of these threats the US Government has formulated rules that can lower the chances of misuse of biological research. That includes all research with select agents or the modification of agents to acquire dangerous traits (“Gain of Function”). It also calls for the continuous education of all generations entering research: to be aware that results of research can be dangerous, if not immediately then possibly at later times.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Stony Brook UniversityStony BrookUSA

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