Introduction to Biosafety and Biosecurity | AIChE

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Introduction to Biosafety and Biosecurity

SBE Special Section

Biotechnology research is advancing at a rapid pace. Scientists must seriously consider biosecurity and biosafety concerns that may arise in their work.

The field of synthetic biology, which aims to make biology easier to engineer, is seeing tremendous growth. It is enabling the creation of novel and environmentally friendly applications, such as living materials with genetically coded functionalities and new options for biosensors for environmental and clinical samples (1, 2). Research tools like gene synthesis, sequencing, and CRISPR for gene editing have been transformative for subdisciplines of biological research as diverse as wildlife conservation, diagnostics development, and agriculture (3).

The progress and potential of synthetic biology are evidenced by the rapid scientific response to SARS-CoV-2 that enabled COVID-19 to become a largely vaccine-preventable disease. Less than two years after the emergence of the novel virus, there are 102 vaccines in human clinical trials, 33 vaccines in the final stages of testing, more than 75 preclinical vaccines are under active investigation in animals, and eight vaccines that are fully approved for use (4).

Beyond COVID-19, advances in biotechnologies are expected to yield new applications, novel products, and potential for unprecedented growth. Yet, even though the advancements are breathtaking, questions remain as to whether the work is proceeding in line with the public’s best interests and whether scientists and their research institutions need to tackle biosafety and biosecurity concerns. This article describes how engineers and scientists can help address these questions.

Biosecurity refers to the deliberate misuse or release of microbiological agents and toxins (5). Biosafety refers to the safe handling and containment of infectious microorganisms and hazardous biological materials. Increasing safety and security often requires collective, research institution, and/or governmental actions. In a fast-moving and advancing field that has far-reaching implications for the future of health and manufacturing, developing policy options requires significant technical expertise. Scientists must be informed about the policy matters that affect them and use their expertise to get involved in their research institutions, biotechnology companies, funding agencies, scientific societies, government agencies, and other organizations in solving those problems...

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