Does Biotechnology Pose New Catastrophic Risks?

  • Diane DiEuliis
  • Andrew D. Ellington
  • Gigi Kwik Gronvall
  • Michael J. ImperialeEmail author
Part of the Current Topics in Microbiology and Immunology book series (CT MICROBIOLOGY, volume 424)


Advances in biotechnology in the twenty-first century, fueled in large part by the field of synthetic biology, have greatly accelerated capabilities to manipulate and re-program bacteria, viruses, and other organisms. These genetic engineering capabilities are driving innovation and progress in drug manufacturing, bioremediation, and tissue engineering, as well as biosecurity preparedness. However, biotechnology is largely dual use, holding the potential of misuse for deliberate harm along with positive applications; defenses against those threats need to be anticipated and prepared. This chapter describes the challenges of managing dual-use capabilities enabled by modern biotechnology and synthetic biology and highlights a framework tool developed by a National Academies committee to aid analysis of the security effects of new scientific discoveries and prioritization of concerns. The positive aspects of synthetic biology in preparedness are also detailed, and policy directions are highlighted for taking advantage of the positive aspects of these emerging technologies while minimizing risks.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Diane DiEuliis
    • 1
  • Andrew D. Ellington
    • 2
  • Gigi Kwik Gronvall
    • 3
  • Michael J. Imperiale
    • 4
    Email author
  1. 1.National Defense UniversityWashington, D.C.USA
  2. 2.University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA
  3. 3.Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Department of Environmental Health and EngineeringJohns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public HealthBaltimoreUSA
  4. 4.Department of Microbiology and ImmunologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

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