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Building Biological Radar for Global Biosecurity


Biological threats, whether natural or engineered, will continue to emerge at an accelerating pace. To keep up, a new approach to biomonitoring is needed.

“For the world’s viruses, this is a time of unprecedented opportunity” (1). With this line, Ed Yong, staff writer for The Atlantic, ushered in a new era dubbed the “pandemicene.” The COVID-19 pandemic was a wake-up call for leaders around the world to reckon with the disruptive power of biology. Still, most regard it as a once-in-a-lifetime event, revealing a fundamental misunderstanding of biological risk in the 21st century.

Biological risk is on the rise. Climate change is driving novel animal migration patterns that are already increasing the risk of cross-species viral transmission (2). This trend, coupled with growth in global travel and interconnectedness, is contributing to a steady increase in the frequency and severity of zoonotic spillover events (3). At the same time, the declining cost and increasing accessibility of biotechnology are fueling rising concerns about accidental or intentional misuse and the harm it could cause to lives and livelihoods.

These are not reasons to restrict the growth of the biotechnology sector; in fact, they are the opposite. The bioeconomy revolution promises to bolster human and environmental health, food and energy security, and more — and it holds the keys to addressing the pandemicene head-on (4).

Integrated end-to-end capabilities are needed to prevent, detect, and respond to biological threats, regardless of their origins. The first, critical step is to build a global infrastructure to monitor biology and provide an early warning for anomalous events at the moment they arise — a sort of “biological radar.” This article provides a glimpse into what such a system could look like and discusses one company’s progress in making this system a reality...

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