Projects / Current Projects

Dual use life science research and its potential application in bioterrorism

Project Period: June 2008 - April 2009
Funding: European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)
Project officer: Anna Zmorzynska
Cooperation Partners: Federal Information Centre for Biological Security (IBBS) at the Robert Koch Institute

The aim of this project was to assess the possible bioterrorist threat to European and international public health resulting from dual use biomedical research.

We developed a comprehensive list of activities of concern by analysing existing assessments, life science publications that raised security concerns in the past and the steps necessary to develop a biological weapon. We then conducted a threat assessment of the activities on this list taking into account the necessary expertise, the equipment and the likely consequences. We identified research activities that facilitate the dissemination of a pathogen by contamination of food or water as the biggest potential threat because of their low demands in terms of expertise and equipment and their considerable potential consequences. The classic “horror” activities such as increasing transmissibility, enhancing virulence or changing immunological responses ranked lower because of their high demands in terms of expertise and equipment.

Given the inability to prevent “low tech” terrorist attacks efforts to strengthen public health and emergency response systems to mitigate the effects of unusual disease outbreaks are a key measure to counter the bioterrorist threat. Other possibilities of oversight of life science research are limited. Securing dangerous pathogens in order to prevent unauthorised access and awareness raising within the scientific community are two important ones.