Dual Use und sicherheitsrelevante Forschung
Dual Use, sicherheitsrelevante Forschung und die öffentliche Wahrnehmung von Risiken stellen eine Bedrohung für die freie Wissenschaft dar. Wir haben das Bewusstsein der wissenschaftlichen Gemeinschaft für diese Themen mittels einer globalen Umfrage evaluiert und einen gravierenden Mangel an einheitlicher Terminologie festgestellt. Verschiedene Auffassungen aufgrund unterschiedlicher Bildung und wissenschaftlichen Hintergründen führten in der Vergangenheit zu weitreichenden Debatten und resultierten letztendlich in einer Einschränkung von wissenschaftlichen Publikationen. Deshalb haben wir den Kontakt zu Wissenschaftlern gesucht, das Bewusstsein für sicherheitsrelevante Forschung und das öffentliche Vertrauen durch effektive Wissenschaftskommunikation gestärkt. Unsere Umfrage deckt auf, dass wir die nachfolgende Generation an Wissenschaftlern dringend dahingehend schulen müssen. iGEM bietet ideale Rahmenbedingungen um eine solch nachhaltige Ausbildung bereitzustellen und zu etablieren und somit das globale Bewusstsein zu stärken. Wir begannen unsere Bemühungen vor Ort durch die Organisation eines Vortragsabends an unserer eigenen Universität, erweiterten das Angebot unserer Universitätsbibliothek um Literatur zum Thema sicherheitsrelevante Forschung, stellten lizenzfreie Präsentationsfolien zu diesem Thema der Öffentlichkeit zur Verfügung, erstellten einen Podcast und etablierten ein Seminar an unserer Universität. Unsere Mission: Sicherheitsrelevante Forschung, ihre Auswirkungen und ihre Kommunikation stark in unsere universitäre Ausbildung einzubinden.
Dual Use und sicherheitsrelevante Forschung: Zwischen Wissenschaft, Zweckentfremdung und Wissenschaftskommunikation
Wie alles begann: Unser Projekt und sicherheitsrelevante Forschung
Metalle aus Elektroschrott zurückzugewinnen und der Gesellschaft als wertvolle Metallressource zurückzuführen - das war der Kern des Projekts 2018. Ein relevanter Teil dieses Prozesses ist die Aufnahme von Metallionen wie beispielsweise Kupfer durch Bakterien. Sie stießen auf Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans, einem Bakterium, welches in der industriellen Kupferlaugung verwendet wird und unter extremen Umweltbedingungen lebt (Romo, E. et al., 2013). Sie wollten sein Kupferaufnahmesystem optimieren und in den Modellorganismus Escherichia coli (E. coli) übertragen. Im Zusammenspiel mit den anderen Teilen des Projekts sollte E. coli in der Lage sein, Elektroschrott zu zersetzen und Nanopartikel für zahlreiche neue Anwendungen herzustellen. Auf den zweiten Blick wurde aber auch das Missbrauchspotential des Projekts ersichtlich: In den falschen Händen könnten die Bakterien theoretisch dazu missbraucht werden, in Gebrauch befindliche Elektronik absichtlich zu zersetzen, wenn auch mit äußerst niedriger Geschwindigkeit unter stark verminderter Leistungsfähigkeit. Trotzdem könnte dies in der öffentlichen Wahrnehmung ein Problem darstellen.
Dieses aus dem Projekt entstandene dystopische Szenario zeigt, dass wissenschaftliche Ergebnisse sowohl für wohlwollende als auch für böswillige Anwendungen genutzt werden können. Dieses Problem wurde gelöst, indem nicht direkt Elektroschrott recycelt, sondern stattdessen mit in Grubenwasser gelösten Metallionen gearbeitet wurde. Während der Recherchen zum korrekten Umgang mit solchen ethischen Dilemmas sind sie auf die Begriffe Dual Use und sicherheitsrelevante Forschung (engl. Dual Use Research of Concern, kurz DURC) gestoßen. Die Überraschung war groß, dass keiner aus dem wissenschaftlich hoch diversen Team bisher im Rahmen der akademischen Ausbildung mit diesem Thema in Kontakt gekommen war. Allerdings hat sich leider gezeigt, dass die Beschäftigung mit diesem Thema alles andere als trivial ist und wir nicht einmal klar war, welcher Ansprechpartner für die DURC Thematik an der Universität Bielefeld zuständig ist. Daraufhin untersuchte das Team, ob andere Studierende und Wissenschaftler mit ähnlichen Problemen zu kämpfen hatten. Sowohl an unserer Universität als auch auf internationaler Ebene steckten sie viel Zeit und Mühe in die Bildung und Aufklärung zu den Begriffen "Dual Use", "Biosicherheit" und "sicherheitsrelevante Forschung".
Wie es 2021 weitergeht: Details folgen
Zur Zeit steht das Thema unseres Teams nocht nicht fest. Sobald dies der Fall ist werden wir uns mit dem Dual-Use befassen.
But first: Let's get the Definitions straight!
Biosecurity vs. Biosafety
The definition of biosecurity published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2006 is:
“The protection, control and accountability for valuable biological materials within laboratories, in order to prevent their unauthorized access, loss, theft, misuse, diversion or intentional release.” (World Health Organization, 2006)
Due to digitization and big data, we think this definition might be outdated. The term is restricted to laboratories and materials. The definition called “laboratory biosecurity” is incomplete because it does not include the protection of biosecurity relevant information such as important data or protocols. The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) also states the Biosecurity relevant information in their definition. We suggest extending the definition of biosecurity as following:
Biosecurity: "The protection, control and accountability for biological materials and their biosecurity-relevant information, in order to prevent their unauthorized access, loss, theft, misuse, diversion or intentional release."
Additionally, it is necessary to clearly differentiate between biosecurity and biosafety as there is a substantial difference:
Biosafety: “Biosafety describes the containment principles, technologies and practices that are implemented to prevent the unintentional exposure to pathogens and toxins, or their accidental release.” (World Health Organization, 2006)
Biosafety focuses on the protection of people within a laboratory and the prevention of unintentional release of environmental or health hazards whereas Biosecurity sets the focus on the protection of laboratory material and relevant information against misuse.
While biosafety is well implemented in iGEM (e.g: Whitford,et al. Auxotrophy to Xeno-DNA: An Exploration of Combinatorial Mechanisms for a High-Fidelity Biosafety System for Synthetic Biology Applications. (2018), Zheng-jun Guan,et al. Biosafety Considerations of Synthetic Biology in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (IGEM) Competition. (2013), biosecurity is only mentioned occasionally.
Here you can access a table with all iGEM teams until 2017 that have designed a biosafety system. (Whitford et al., 2018)
Dual Use in the context of science describes the potential of knowledge or technologies to be used by third parties with both benevolent and malevolent intention. (European Commission, 2018)
The Problem of unclear Definitions
To the best of our knowledge, there is no uniform international definition of biosecurity, Dual Use, and DURC. Different organizations came up with different definitions leading to confusion and different understandings. For example, in chemistry, the term "Chemical Security" is also referring to Dual Use issues. Therefore, it is necessary to establish international uniform definitions on suitable for further education. iGEM is the ideal platform for this purpose as its community is spread all over the world. That is why we are launching a call for international collaboration for uniform terminology within the framework of the competition!
Where can we tie up? - Previous Engagement at iGEM
iGEM does not only mean designing an entire project from scratch. iGEM teams came up with amazing ideas in previous years and developed astonishing systems making the world a better place. We believe that continuing and refining the best ideas is not only a splendid way of honoring those projects but also a necessity, if we really want to accomplish long-term impact in science.
Previously on iGEM: Bielefeld-CeBiTec 2015
We focused on our outreach on the topics biosecurity, Dual Use, and Dual Use Research of Concern (DURC). The team iGEM Bielefeld-CeBiTec 2015 laid the foundation for making a true difference in education and enlightenment of those topics within the iGEM community and amongst life science students in general. We want to build on this and further develop and implement their theoretical approaches. The 2015 team examined the current state and effectivity of education on these topics in life sciences and the iGEM community as well as the legal situation in different countries and regions of the world. All their findings were portrayed in a "Dual Use Report". Now we want to convert their theory into practice. Starting at our university, moving on to national and finally international level, we reached out to scientists and experts - promoting education, preventing misuse and misconception.
What has happened since 2015?
At that time, education on DURC did not happen at our university at all. At first sight, this improved as we have a committee at our university which was founded in 2017. However, the mere existence of this committee does not contribute to a better educational situation in respect to DURC yet. Therefore, we now take actions to support the committee and really improve the knowledge and understanding of students about DURC. (Bielefeld University Press, 2017)
Why all this? - Relevance of Dual Use issues in the 21st century
What Dual Use Research of Concern in the wrong hands could do - two case studies
As the previously mentioned definitions are highly theoretical, we want to present some examples which illustrate what research could cause in the wrong hands. We selected these frequently discussed cases to prevent additional panic by not portraying novel alarming scenarios.
Science provides an example with a publication on the transmissibility of A/H5N1 viruses between ferrets which might be used to increase transmissibility of harmful viruses (Herfst et al., 2012). The research group examined which part of the genomic information of a mutated A/H5N1 virus was responsible for its previously non-present air transmissibility. Theoretically, this could be transferred to any harmful virus - so it is a case of Dual Use Research of Concern. However, it is important to note that the modification of a virus is not a trivial task and would require substantial additional research.
An example from another field of science is a publication on pulmonary drug delivery by customizing large porous particles (Edwards et al., 1997). The publication enables the optimal uptake and medical efficacy, but this works the same for toxins or drugs. This is why this research can also be considered Dual Use Research of Concern as it could be misused to effectively harm somebody.
New challenges in the internet age
In contrast to researchers from previous generations, we have to deal with an additional challenge: the global availability of information throughout the internet. Open access provides lots of chances for science as huge amounts of data can be shared within seconds but at the same moment cause a sensible problem as also sensitive information and panic could be spread rapidly.
But no need to panic!
Despite all these concerns we did not have lots of misuse cases in the last decades. They are actually extremely rare considering the number of scientific projects that are running each year. It should be mentioned here that despite only a few cases, they are nevertheless still present! We as scientists know that in most cases the feasibility of misuse is very low. For example, it is extremely challenging to recreate a virus and there are many easier ways to harm someone - but does the public know, too?
The Public's Conception of Risks: The Problem of Science Communication
During our research on Dual Use and Research of Concern it became clear to us that it is not the misuse of research itself that poses the only danger:
A great danger comes also from how the public perceives the danger.
Different understanding due to different educational or scientific backgrounds led to huge debates in the past ultimately resulting in restriction of publications. That is why we reached out to scientists gaining public trust by effective science communication of their research.
An Example of failed Communication: 'Airborne transmission of influenza A/H5N1 virus between ferrets' by Herfst et al., 2012
A critical publication from 2012 caused a disturbing sensation at this time: A research group examined which part of the genomic information of a mutated A/H5N1 virus was in charge of its previously non-present air transmissibility (Herfst et al., 2012). In addition to the critical content of the publication, communication was also a major problem here. The worrying title “Airborne transmission of influenza A/H5N1 virus between ferrets” alone quickly drew the attention of the media to this publication which led to concerns and much public criticism of scientists. Such cases can rapidly lead to panic to which the government can respond with stricter regulation of science. The limitation of free science poses a real danger in the Internet age as information and panic can spread around the world in seconds. That is why we appeal to you as responsible scientists:
Ask yourselves: How does the public perceive you as scientists?
It is important to communicate to the public that every scientist is aware of their research and has carried out risk assessment. The one who works on research must be the one who can best assess the risks of the research and moreover communicate them properly. This is a fundamental part of generating public trust and supporting free research.
Self-Regulation vs. Foreign-Regulation of Science
"Researchers are now facing a dilemma: If they refrained from research whose results could possibly be misused, the scientific progress in medicine and technology would be done for. On the other hand, researchers are due to their expertise responsible for weighing up the risks and the opportunities of their work: “Scientists have the duty to minimize the risks of dual use in their work” says the Robert Koch Institute." – Dr. Manuela Lenzen, Philosophy and Science Journalism
There are two obvious ways of regulating science:
- Regulation through politics
- Self-regulation by the scientists themselves
Regulation by politics includes the problem that politicians do not necessarily possess enough expertise on science-relevant topics to correctly interpret concrete situations. This could lead to overregulation and restriction of free science as they could overrate dangers and risks due to wrong assessment. In addition, they have to represent the view of the public which can be easily influenced by panic. As they must secure their voters, they speak out more willingly against free science in order to calm the public and gain trust.
The scientist himself can best assess the risks of his own research.
This is why self-regulation by scientists acting as their own experts might be the better solution. But self-regulation only works if every scientist is aware of DURC issues and its communication. This can only be achieved if it is part of their university education. Therefore, we want to underline the relevance of dealing with this topic.
Biosecurity in the Context of iGEM - Relevance
When participating in the iGEM competition, it is necessary to deal with Dual Use and biosecurity issues. Most participants in the competition get in touch with research for the first time through iGEM. That is why iGEM has the potential of being a role model for the scientific community by providing education and raising awareness for biosecurity concerns and the minimization of its risks.
Each year, over 45 countries and nearly 6000 students participate in the iGEM competition and thus its influence is enormous (iGEM Foundation, 2018). In addition, all results are open source. Consequently, everybody with an access to the web can get all information about every project. Due to this enormous impact and the fact that all results will be published it is important that all participants are aware of the terms “Dual Use” and “Dual Use Research of Concern” and their communication.
Most attendees, including ourselves, were uninformed about biosecurity when starting their research and heard about this topic the first time when they have already started their project. We think this is way too late.
Legal Situations: Different Areas, different Approaches
Legal Situation: iGEM Perspective
"At iGEM we take the risk that others might misuse our work and resources to cause deliberate harm very seriously. We have robust programs designed to ensure that we help enable local people to address local challenges both safely and securely. Leading technical bodies, such as the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, have suggested that almost all modern biotechnology could be used for both good and for harm." – Dr. Piers Millet, iGEM Vice President of Safety and Security
The iGEM Headquarters (iGEM HQ) strongly emphasizes the importance of biosafety and biosecurity. One problem is the internationality of the competition. iGEM HQ must ensure that US rights are observed but also the teams should be able to successfully participate in countries with different laws. Teams must completely agree on safety and security policies from iGEM HQ to be accepted for the finals in Boston. The high safety measures as for example working with organisms of safety level three or four and using parts from organisms of a safety level of four is completely forbidden. Also, every team has to fill in a safety sheet that requires profound reflection on the topics biosafety and biosecurity (iGEM Foundation, 2018).
Despite most questions dealing with the first-mentioned, the questionnaire also asks about DURC training the iGEM teams might have got. One question also asks about the safety, security and ethical risks the projects might trigger (iGEM Foundation, 2018).
This shows indeed that biosafety and biosecurity have high relevance for iGEM but still DURC issues are not considered long-term. It would be useful providing biosecurity material when iGEM teams register. It has not escaped our noticed that our provided presentation slides about DURC could be used for this purpose!
Legal Situation: An Industrial Perspective
How does the life science industry handle biosecurity issues?
As an iGEM sponsor and provider of gene syntheses we asked Integrated DNA Technologies (IDT) about dealing with biosecurity issues. Gene syntheses can potentially be misused to generate hazardous organisms. IDT is one of five founding members of the International Gene Synthesis Consortium (IGSC) and was involved in the development of The “Harmonized Screening Protocol”. This protocol is applied to every sequence order to prevent the misuse of synthetic genes. For their gBlocks Gene Fragments IDT uses this protocol to screen every ordered sequence for regulated and possibly pathogenic sequences. Besides, IDT verifies that their customers are legitimate scientists and ensures that they are involved in beneficial research (Integrated DNA Technologies, 2018).
Legal Situation: Germany
Starting locally, we examined the situation in Germany. Currently, there are no regulations and controls concerning the content of publications here. For this reason, it is important to promote a sense of responsibility from the very beginning of the scientific education. Carelessness of the scientific community could lead to misuse of research. This could entail harsh regulations from the politics and a restriction of free science. If every scientist is accordingly educated and acts in a responsible manner such excessive regulations can be avoided in the future. This issue is very important to protect the society as well as the public trust scientists and scientific institutions rely upon.
First Approaches in Germany: A Commission for Ethics of DURC
In 2014, the German Research Foundation (DFG) published together with the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina recommendations on how to deal with DURC. These recommendations state that research institutions draft ethical rules for dealing with DURC and establish a commission for the ethics of DURC that has an advisory function. It was recommended that these commissions should be established at every research facility by 2017.
By 2019, it will be decided whether these commissions are sufficient to deal with DURC problems or whether more regulations are needed. One restrictive suggestion is that scientists must obtain a license in order to be allowed to publish something - and that would be an intervention in free science (National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and German Research Foundation, 2016).
Our University, our Commission - our Contribution
Consequently, there was a new committee for the ethics of DURC founded at our university (Bielefeld University Press, 2017).
Getting in contact with the head of the commission, we learned that they are in charge of this committee but did not take action to integrate the issues into the curricula yet. This is partly due to the fact that the commissions did only get the goals they need to achieve without any information on how to accomplish this. Further, they are members of the board who already have full time jobs and would provide advice if required.
We want to support this new committee and give some input how students and other members of universities could be educated about this topic. For this reason, we initialized the following steps:
Step by Step Integration of DURC issues and its communication into University Education
1.Step: Starting local: An established Researchers Perspective
At first, we wanted to receive information from experienced scientists of different fields of science like biology, informatics, physics and chemistry about the topics Dual Use and Dual Use Research of Concern. We assumed that they should definitely be aware of the whole topic. We evaluated the current situation at our university. The interviews demonstrated that most scientists have heard about the terms before but have never dealt with them in detail and certainly not integrated them into their lectures.
How should students be informed if these topics are not part of the university education?
During the interviews we presented our further procedure planning to the scientists in order to integrate the education on DURC issues into lectures: For the beginning we planned to provide open source presentation slides that can be easily integrated into lectures or safety instructions. Almost all researchers we contacted agreed to integrate our slides into their lectures.
"Several surveys over the past ten years have clearly documented that the majority of scientists involved in modern life sciences work do not devote a great deal of active consideration to questions of biosecurity, mainly because they have little awareness of possible dual-use implications of their work." - Prof. em. Dr. Kathryn Nixdorff, Joint Committee of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the German Research Foundation (DFG) for the Handling of Security-relevant Research
2.Step: Let's review the Situation - Nationwide Survey
In order to evaluate the situation throughout Germany, we initiated a nationwide survey in the period from June 21st to July 10th about the topics Dual Use and Dual Use Research of Concern and their treatment at university. The results clearly show that the level of knowledge of German scientists as well as the enlightenment at universities about DURC is not sufficient.
Key data of the German survey:
-26 different universities
-10 iGEM Teams
Remarkable Data and Major Problems - Germany
62%: do not know the definition of Research of Concern
51%: do not know the definition of Dual Use
80%: do not know a contact person to ask for questions and concerns
94%: criticize an indifferent or very poor degree of information at their universities
71%: want a more pronounced education as part of their university education
Here you can view the detailed evaluation!
3.Step: A local Beginning - Lecture Evening and Panel Discussion
Based on the results of the interviews and the survey, we organized a lecture evening followed by a panel discussion on the subject „Where does free science end? – Chances and risks of the self-regulation in research“.
This event was organized in cooperation with the student initiative Bielefeld biotechnologische Studenteninitiative (btS) e.V.on 11 July.
We invited the speakers Prof. Dr. Alfons Bora (Faculty of Sociology, Bielefeld University), Prof. Dr. Kathryn Nixdorff (Leopoldina, University of Darmstadt) and Tom Hobson (Bath University). We gave a talk on the topic ‘Biosecurity in the Context of iGEM’ in which we presented among other things the results of our nationwide survey and moderated the following discussion.
You can see the complete speech of our team member Irina Rais here.
Also, we were able to include other teams in the discussion of DURC issues:
iGEM HSHL 2018 and iGEM Duesseldorf 2018 attended the event and gave great input! Their presence was a step forwards to increase the reach of education on DURC issues.
Why this lecture?
We wanted to support the new commission for ethics of DURC issues with input as the head of the commission from our university attended and introduced the committee at the beginning of the evening. In our talk we showed how the education on DURC issues could happen and presented our next steps. Our central message to the 80 participants of the lecture evening can be summarized as follows:
Freedom needs responsibility - raise awareness!
4. Step What does the international situation looks like? - International Survey
We extended our perspective to get an international look on the level of knowledge and prepared an international version of the German survey. The survey covers the topics Dual Use, Dual Use Research of Concern and their imparting at universities. Since the survey is still active we are still looking for more participants to get a better international view!
Click here to participate in the survey!
Nevertheless, we evaluated the data from the period of July 18 to October 3rd to get a first international impression.
Key data of the international survey:
-63 iGEM Teams
We also designed a world map with all countries that participated in the survey highlighted in green. Our goal is to see the whole world marked green!
Remarkable Data and Major Problems – Worldwide
71%: do not know the definition of Dual Use Research of Concern
61%: do not know the definition of Dual Use
60%: do not know a contact person to ask for questions and concerns
63%: criticize an indifferent or very poor enlightenment at their universities
78%: want a more pronounced enlightenment as part of their university education
Here you can view the detailed evaluation!
We believe that actually even less people know about Dual Use and Dual Use Research of Concern. The survey was mainly done by other iGEM teams thus motivated students interested in the topics which does not depict the situation for the whole student community. On the other hand, the poor results may also be due to the fact that no official, uniform definitions for Dual Use and DURC exist. Different organizations come up with different definitions leading to confusion and different understandings.
Conclusion: Interpretation of the Surveys - what can we learn from them?
We used the survey results to identify crucial problems in the DURC area and tackle them accordingly. We isolated following major problems:
- Most scientists do not know the definitions of Dual Use and Dual Use Research of Concern
- Education about Dual Use, Dual Use Research of Concern issues and their science communication is not part of the university education
- Scientists do not know the existence of the responsible committees and who to contact for questions
- There are no international and uniform definitions of the terms Dual Use and Dual Use Research of Concern
Problems entail Risks
The insufficient education of scientists on DURC issues harbors three major risks:
- Loss of public trust in scientists due to proper science communication
- Strict regulation of scientific research in response to unconsidered publications with DURC content
- Unwitting publication of critical content due to a lack of education and contact persons
These mentioned risks will always be present if the education on DURC issues and science communication does not improve!
5. Step: How can we avoid it? Long-Term Prevention!
"The goal must be to confront every bioscientist with the dual-use problem and biorisk management from the beginning of his career and to achieve that a bioscientist is not satisfied with the compliance with the legal regulations but recognize and accomplish this special ethical responsibility." – Dr. Carsten Roller, VBIO Department Manager Training and Career
Our goal is to integrate DURC issues and their communication firmly into university education worldwide. Only through long-term integration into the curriculum can an effective sense of responsibility be established. For this reason, we have taken some steps to achieve these goals.
Prevention measures: Let's avoid Incidents in the Future
1.Let's start at our university: Expansion of the Library Selection
As we would like to provide comprehensive information about Dual Use Research of Concern we think books about this topic are a great way to inform yourself. Given that, we were even more surprised that we could not find any literature at our university library about these highly relevant topics. We think this is not acceptable and miss these important issues in the inventory of our library. Therefore, we initiated and achieved the purchase of current literature about DURC, which can also be integrated into educational courses. We are proud to announce that these three books are now included in our university library
Dual Use Research of Concern in the Life Sciences:
Current Issues and Controversies
A Survey of Attitudes and Actions on Dual Use Research in the Life Sciences:
A Collaborative Effort of the National Research Council and the American Association for the Advancement of Science
Gene Drives on the Horizon:
Advancing Science, Navigating Uncertainty, and Aligning Research with Public Values
2. Let's get international: Open Source Presentation Slides for Everyone
We want to make it easier for lecturers to integrate Dual Use and Dual Use Research of Concern issues into their lecture and courses. That is why we prepared a concise set of slides with further explanations and instructions in the presentation notes. These contain clear definitions for the terms Dual Use and Dual Use Research of Concern. The aim is to lower the threshold for integrating these topics into lectures or safety inductions since lecturers themselves do not have to prepare anything. As already mentioned, many researchers at our university already announced to incorporate these slides into their lectures. We prepared different versions for the research areas of biology and chemistry each in English and German. The provided slides are open source and can be effortlessly used by everyone without our explicit permission. We are happy about acknowledgement though.
You can find the slides here!
As we already started to spread the presentation slides, there are many teams already using them. The following iGEM teams have successfully integrated them into their team meetings:
Dr. Carsten Roller
On the other side bad will, crime and terrorism always can elude even the best laws or legal prohibitions. Therefore awareness of the involved scientists is of crucial importance. Proliferous introduction of new regulations, structures, licensing procedures and administrative processes will prevent dual use risks only to a certain extent. Effort and benefits would be out of proportion with the associated disabilities and delays of life science research. Therefore VBIO stands against demands of the “Deutscher Ethikrat” (German Ethics Council) for stricter legal regulation.
In the sense of an appropriate risk strategy we support awareness-raising measures at all levels of the science community, within universities and research institutions, within scientific societies, within companies and last not least within study and teaching.
Supported by the “Konferenz Biologischer Fachbereiche” (KBF, German Conference of Biological Departments) VBIO had achieved that the topics of biosafety and biosecurity were implemented in study reference frame “Fachkanon_Biologie” and the study plan of “Fachspezifisch ergänzende Hinweise” (FEH 10) of the accreditation agency ASIIN. Thus all life science departments in Germany are asked to implement biorisk management aspects in all of their bachelor and master degree programs.
The goal must be to confront every bioscientist with the dual-use problem and biorisk management from the beginning of his career and to achieve that a bioscientist is not satisfied with the compliance with the legal regulations but recognize and accomplish this special ethical responsibility. In individual cases, this can also mean the temporary or final abandonment of a research project.
In line with the “Gemeinsamer Ausschuss zum Umgang mit Sicherheitsrelevanter Forschung” of the DFG and Leopoldina (joint committee on dealing with safety-relevant research), the VBIO requires universities and research institutions to create financial, organizational and time-related spaces that enable their employees to conduct risk-responsive, risk-averse analysis.
These include regular training, exchange and counseling services. A further step is the establishment of “Kommissionen für Ethik der Forschung” (KEF, Research Ethics Committees) which are the first contact points for all scientists. In addition, beyond the institutions, all opportunities must be exploited to raise awareness of the dual-use problem in research networks, organizations and associations, without paranoidly exceeding the target. Therefore with a sense of proportion, VBIO always likes to help the topic of biorisk management not to a maximum, but to lead to an optimum.
Dr. Manuela Lenzen
Dr. Piers Millet
iGEM believes that we all share a responsibility to maximise how biological engineering can make our lives better whilst minimising any potential for harm. That is why iGEM teams are asked to think about and manage any risks from their projects - both during the competition and should their project ever be fully realised. We understand the important role that instructors, advisors, and PIs can play - both in ensuring the work is safe and secure but also in building a culture of responsible research and engineering. More broadly, the iGEM communities capture this though our shared values. We work to translate this into effective action. For example, iGEM continues to be at the forefront of building better ways to identify and manage risks, including dual use concerns. After iGEM also provides a powerful platform by which members of iGEM communities can continue to work on these important issues as their careers progress. For example, in December 2017 five members of our community participated in and briefed the annual meeting of the Biological Weapons Convention, at the United Nations Office at Geneva."