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Brave new world in life sciences

The biosciences are converging with information technology, nanotechnology, and materials science in unforeseen ways, yielding remarkable advances that have the potential to cure--or kill.

To reduce the likelihood that these discoveries will be exploited for destructive ends, the authors of the 2006 report, "Globalization, Biosecurity, and the Future of Life Sciences," propose a "web of protection" that bolsters the development of robust defenses without restricting the free flow of scientific information.

Writing in the September/October Bulletin, the authors argue that fixing a fractured public health system to be responsive to "both natural and deliberate biological threats" is perhaps "the most obvious and important" of the recommendations coming from the report produced by a committee of the National Research Council/Institute of Medicine (IOM).

Eileen R. Choffnes, director of the IOM's Forum on Microbial Threats; Stanley M. Lemon, forum chair and director of the Institute of Human Infections and Immunity at the University of Texas, Galveston; and David A. Relman, associate professor of microbiology and immunology and of medicine at Stanford University, were the study director and co-chairs, respectively, of the committee.

Also in this issue of the Bulletin: Two different assessments of U.S. vulnerability to nuclear terrorism. Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, warns that Americans are "more vulnerable to a nuclear 9/11 today than we were five years ago." William M. Arkin, online columnist for the Washington Post and author of upcoming The Alternative: Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the American Future, argues that the nuclear terrorism threat has diminished, and that exaggerated fears of a nuclear 9/11 have prompted the United States to divert crucial resources toward failed policies.

Related articles and opinion pieces debate specific aspects of post-9/11 security including the likelihood of seaborne terrorism and the need for piracy suppression, and tracking the effectiveness of U.N. Security Council 1540, which requires all nations to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.

Mark Strauss | EurekAlert!
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