Biosecurity In the Age of Genome Editing

On December 3rd, New America hosted an event to celebrate and share a new report on the biosecurity implications of genome editing.

In 2017, researchers from George Mason University and Stanford University initiated a two-year multidisciplinary study, Editing Biosecurity, to explore critical biosecurity issues related to CRISPR and related genome editing technologies. The overarching goal of the study was to present governance options and recommendations to key stakeholders, and to identify broader trends in the life sciences that may alter the security landscape. In characterizing the landscape, and in the design of these options and recommendations, the research team focused on how to manage the often-competing demands of promoting innovation and preventing misuse, and how to adapt current, or create new, governance mechanisms to achieve these objectives.

The four study leads and seven research assistants for Editing Biosecurity were assisted by a core research group of fourteen subject-matter experts with backgrounds in security, the life sciences, policy, industry, and, ethics. The centerpiece of the study was three invitation-only workshops that brought together the study leads and the core research group for structured discussions of the benefits, risks, and governance options for genome editing. To support these workshops and the final report, the study leads prepared two working papers on risk assessment and governance, respectively, and commissioned five issue briefs on key topics.

The executive summary of the report can be found here and you can read the full report (Editing Biosecurity: Needs and Strategies for Governing Genome Editing) here. You can also access the video recording of the event here.

For a recap from GMU Biodefense graduate student Justin Hurt, please check this page.

You can also ready about Russian disinformation regarding genetic engineering from an author of this report, Jesse Kirkpatrick. “But there’s another risk to gene drive research that has flown under the radar. This threat combines legitimate concerns about the safety of gene drives with skepticism about science and information warfare. Russia, or another U.S. adversary, could use the megaphone of social media to stoke worries about genome editing in the U.S. in a campaign timed with the next high-level meeting on gene drives. In fact, Russia has recently engaged in a disinformation campaign claiming—falsely—that the U.S. is developing biological weapons in neighboring countries, and it has also used state-funded news outlets to cast doubt in the U.S. about the safety of GMOs. These campaigns are concerning—they can impact national security, international relationships, and trade—yet haven’t received nearly the same level of exposure as discussion about misinformation campaigns designed to achieve political objectives.”