By Buzz McClain
(Released 14 October 2016) The threat of bioterrorism—the use of biological agents to cause mass casualties—is one of the greatest and fastest-moving threats facing the world. As global leaders consider policies to control the development and deployment of new and increasingly dangerous technologies, it falls on scientists to play an immediate and significant role in nonproliferation actions.
That’s the consensus of George Mason University professors Gregory Koblentz and Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley, who took part in a seminar on Friday to launch the new book, “Biological Threats in the 21st Century” (Imperial College Press).
Koblentz is director of George Mason’s Biodefense Program at the Schar School of Policy and Government; Ben Ouagrham-Gormley is an associate professor at the Schar School and an expert on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. Each wrote a chapter in the book.
Advancements in biotechnologies offer great promise in the fields of health, medicine and the environment “but they have military as well as peaceful applications,” Koblentz said. “The rise of terrorist groups such as the Islamic State, which combine an apocalyptic ideology that is used to justify barbaric and indiscriminant tactics, a desire to cause mass casualties and experimentation with unconventional weapons, poses a severe risk to international security.”
Friday’s panel discussion included members of scientific and military communities as well as the book’s editor, Filippa Lentzos, and a keynote address by Andrew C. Weber, who coordinated the Ebola response for the State Department. They and the Mason professors will address the role of scientists in controlling bioweapons.
“Scientists are often motivated by making discoveries, and they may engage in research projects without fully considering the security implications of their work,” said Ben Oaugrham-Gormley. “Currently, curricula in the life sciences do not educate scientists in issues related to security and the Biological Weapons Convention.”
Oaugrham-Gormley said Mason’s Biodefense Program fills the gap by educating practicing scientists and students who join the program after they earn a life sciences degree.
“One of the goals of the Biodefense Graduate Program at the Schar School is to bridge the gap between the scientific and policy communities to enable the close collaboration that is required to devise effective biodefense and nonproliferation strategies,” Koblentz said.
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