Brussels, 11 Jun 2004
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has warned that biotechnology research, in addition to being used to find cures to diseases, could result in new biological weapons.
'The free access to genetic sequence data for the human genome and a large number of other genomes, including for pathogenic micro-organisms, is a great scientific resource, but it could pose a significant threat if misused. Researchers now have standard methodologies for altering an organism's genetic make-up,' said the institute in its annual report published on 9 June.
According to the report, the rapid progress in biotechnology could be applied to target specific human biological systems causing harm, for example, to a particular group through a new class of biological warfare agents.
The report's writer therefore fears that improved medicines and vaccines for cardiovascular, immunological, neurological and gastrointestinal problems could be misused by terrorist organisations or the military.
'What seems like innocent and beneficial scientific data can pose a very serious threat,' said SIPRI director Alyson Bailes, who added that scientists should perhaps not treat genetic sequencing data as a common resource, but instead keep it secret because of security implications.
Roger Roffey, the report's author wrote that 'there have been numerous claims that Al-Qaida and the Taliban have demonstrated an interest in acquiring and using biological weapons, but such reports are ambiguous.'
Experts, however, say the risk is there, and call for careful monitoring of the situation. To read the full report, please visit: http://editors.sipri.se/pubs/yb04/pr04.h tml