CRISPR: Don’t single out the DIY community

Research output: Other contribution


The do-it-yourself biology community has been proactive about developing and fostering a culture of responsibility. It should not be singled out as being worse than anyone else with regard to the use of gene-editing technologies.

In general, DIY bio is not particularly sophisticated. The likelihood is very low that people with no specialist training operating outside professional scientific institutions can genetically engineer organisms capable of harming people or the planet.

The same can be said for terrorist groups. Few — if any — such groups have the knowledge or scientific resources to create biological weapons. The number of attempts by terrorists to acquire and use these types of weapons is exceptionally small compared to the overall number of attacks that terrorists have conducted. Terrorists tend to be conservative and use weapons that are readily available and have a proven track record, not something like biological weapons that are more difficult to develop and deploy. While there is a risk of crude bioterrorism attacks, the likelihood that scientific advances will be used to enhance these attacks is very low.

What I worry more about is the potential for state or state-supported use of biological weapons. While the norm against biological weapons is strong, and the potential for state use is low, we cannot assume that biological weapons won’t be used in the future. This is coupled with an erosion of technological barriers to acquire and use bioweapons. CRISPR could be used as a means to create and deploy new and sophisticated biological weapons for new types of warfare.

The life science community plays a crucial role in strengthening the red line against the misuse of biology. Fostering responsible science rests on individual life scientists and the systems and safeguards where they work; and on an awareness of dual-use problems and structures to encourage responsible behavior.
Original languageEnglish
Media of outputelectronic blog
PublisherSTAT news
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2016


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