BIOSECURITY AND THE NEXT GENERATION OF SCIENTISTS
Office for Disarmament Affairs Biological Weapons Convention Implementation Support Unit Supports International Genetically Engineered Machines Competition
10 October 2011
Members of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) Implementation Support Unit (ISU) from the Office for Disarmament Affairs will take part in the 2011 International Genetically Engineered Machines Competition (iGEM). Together with members of the law enforcement community, academics and the event's organizers will brief participants on safety and security issues. The ISU will be part of the competition's safety committee and also help judge the human practices projects which look at the links between the science and our societies. This year, the ISU will be judging at the regional competition in Hong Kong in October and at the World Championships in November.
Opportunities to interact this way are ground breaking for all involved: for the young scientists, they are an introduction to the work of the disarmament and security community, and for the organizations involved, it was a step outside of the environments and practitioners with which they are usually associated.
iGEM is the world's first undergraduate synthetic biology competition. The student teams are given a kit of standardized biological parts at the beginning of the summer. They work at their own schools, using these parts (and new parts they create) to build biological systems and operate them in living cells. Their projects are then entered into a series of regional competitions (currently for the Americas, Europe and Asia) where they present their work, compete for medals and prizes and have a great deal of fun. The best projects from each of the regions then compete at the World Championships, traditionally held at MIT in the USA (where the competition began).
What the teams can accomplish is nothing short of astounding. Past winners, for example, have developed a new, more efficient approach to bioproduction (Slovenia 2010), improved the design and construction of biosensors (Cambridge 2009), created a prototype designer vaccine (Slovenia 2008), made considerable progress towards a self-differentiated bacterial assembly line (Peking 2007), and re-engineered human cells to combat sepsis (Slovenia 2006).
While such cutting edge biology can bring great benefits, both in terms of how the life sciences are done and how they applied, there is also the possibility it could be used to cause deliberate harm. It is important to sensitize the next generation of scientists to the fact that their work could be misused by others, to empower them to be able to act in such cases, to raise awareness that efforts to acquire and use biological weapons have a long and well-documented history, and to raise awareness of the various national and international laws and regulations that cover their work. The purpose of the BWC is to ensure that biological science and technology are used only for peaceful purposes, and the ISU is pleased to have this opportunity to help young scientists contribute to realizing the aims of the treaty.
States Parties to the BWC will meet in Geneva, Switzerland, from 5 to 22 December 2011 for the Seventh Review Conference of the BWC. It will be the first opportunity for five years for States Parties to examine the operation of the Convention. The review conference process provides the opportunity for States Parties to reconfirm their commitment to the complete prohibition of biological weapons and to address any problems or shortcomings in the operation of the Convention. Among other issues, the 2011 Review Conference is expected to examine any scientific and technological developments that may have implications for the Convention.
The Biological Weapons Convention, which opened for signature in 1972 and entered into force in 1975, is the first multilateral disarmament treaty banning an entire category of weapons. It currently has 164 States Parties, with a further 13 states having signed but not yet ratified.
For further information on the BWC or its ISU, please contact:
Head, BWC Implementation Support Unit
tel: +41 (0)22 917 2230
fax: +41 (0)22 917 0483
For further information on iGEM, see:
For use of the information media; not an official record