In its endeavor, the study committee developed a framework to identify the relative level of concern that should attach to particular technological scenarios. In the event of an outbreak from a novel organism, or an attack with a novel toxin, how should public health officials determine the level of risk? The report's framework for assessing concern consists of four factors, along with descriptive elements within each factor. The factors are Usability of the Technology, Usability as a Weapon, Requirements of Actors, and Potential for Mitigation. Looking at these factors more simply, they assess the ease of using a technology, how feasible it is to use it as a weapon, the identification of what actors could achieve certain technical goals (having both knowledge and access to resources), and finally, the existence of measures to counteract a new biological threat. With that framework for guidance, the report ranks certain threats as warranting higher concern than others:
Of the potential capabilities assessed, three currently warrant the most concern: recreating known pathogenic viruses, making existing bacteria more dangerous, and making harmful biochemicals via in situ synthesis. The first two capabilities are of high concern due to usability of the technology. The third capability, which involves using microbes or synthetic pathways to produce harmful biochemicals or toxins to be used against humans, is of high concern because its novelty challenges potential mitigation options.The report is a timely summary of how current genetic technologies recast and expand biosecurity threats. The framework that the NAS has provided for a methodical evaluation of a new biological organism or biochemical capability will allow public health and national security responders to more quickly determine risk and response during unanticipated events.
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