ACCESSIBILITY AT UNOG A A A A The United Nations in the Heart of Europe

Intersessional Work

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The Seventh Review Conference decided that a review of developments in the field of science and technology related to the Convention will be one of three Standing Agenda Items to be addressed annually at both the Meeting of Experts and Meeting of States Parties during the 2012–2015 intersessional programme. The topics to be discussed include:

  • New science and technology developments that have potential for uses contrary to the provisions of the Convention
  • New science and technology developments that have potential benefits for the Convention, including those of special relevance to disease surveillance, diagnosis and mitigation
  • Measures for strengthening national biological risk management
  • Voluntary codes of conduct and other measures to encourage responsible conduct by scientists, academia and industry
  • Education and awareness-raising about risks and benefits of life sciences and biotechnology
  • Science- and technology-related developments relevant to the activities of multilateral organizations such as the WHO, OIE, FAO, IPPC and OPCW
  • Any other science and technology developments of relevance to the Convention

In addition to these topics to be discussed throughout the intersessional program, States Parties will also consider a different topical scientific subject each year leading up to the next review conference:
  • 2012: advances in enabling technologies, including high-throughput systems for sequencing, synthesizing and analyzing DNA; bioinformatics and computational tools; and systems biology
  • 2013: advances in technologies for surveillance, detection, diagnosis and mitigation of infectious diseases, and similar occurrences caused by toxins in humans, animals and plants
  • 2014: advances in the understanding of pathogenicity, virulence, toxicology, immunology and related issues
  • 2015: advances in production, dispersal and delivery technologies of biological agents and toxins

Following the 2012 Meeting of Experts, the Chair prepared a synthesis document to assist with the identification of common understandings during the 2012 Meeting of States Parties. On the topic of Science and Technology, the document identifies:

A number of relevant, interdependent advances in enabling technologies, including: bioinformatics; computational biology; DNA microarrays; gene synthesis technology; high-throughput mass spectrometry; high-throughput sequencing; nanotechnology; synthetic biology; systems biology; and whole-genome directed evolution.

States Parties identified the following advantages and benefits of the advances:
  • Faster, cheaper, and easier application of biological science and technology by more people in more locations;
  • Improved identification of agents for both public health and security purposes;
  • Increased capacity to investigate the possible use of biological weapons;
  • Improved understanding of disease, including the relationship between human genetic variation and pathogenesis; the evolution of toxicity and pathogenicity; and the role of the regulation of biological networks on disease; and
  • Better healthcare technologies and better environmental technologies.

States Parties identified the following challenges and concerns related to the advances:
  • Faster, cheaper, and easier application of biological science and technology, changing proliferation risks and complicating biosafety and biosecurity efforts;
  • Increasing capacity to manipulate pathogens, including their pathogenicity, host-specificity, transmissibility; and reaction to drugs;
  • The synthesis of pathogens, including novel pathogens and those previously eradicated, creating new proliferation pathways; and
  • Novel targets for weapons, new ways to disrupt the healthy functioning of target biochemistry and neurology, and new delivery systems for biological agents and toxins.

States Parties identified a number of opportunities to respond to these advances, including:
  • Developing best practices to ensure the unhindered flow of scientific information and technology while protecting international and national security interests;
  • Developing novel regulatory and oversight systems for pathogenic agents;
  • Enhancing reference databases and improving connection of existing data sources to support identification of agents and facilitate attribution of deliberate use; and
  • Promoting the beneficial applications of gene synthesis technologies while safeguarding security.

In addition to the advances in enabling technologies, States Parties identified a number of developments that have potential for uses contrary to the provisions of the Convention, including:
  • Programming cells to produce toxins, viruses or other cells which could cause harm;
  • Designing and building new or altered pathogenic viruses;
  • The ability to confer mammalian transmissibility to viruses;
  • The increasing ability to confer drug resistance to pathogens;
  • The decreasing genetic diversity amongst farm animals, reducing natural resistance to certain diseases;
  • The development of incapacitating weapons using recent advances in the neurosciences;
  • The increasing capacity to deliver biological weapons via the alimentary route using advances in understanding of enterobacteria and horizontal gene transfer;
  • The identification of mechanisms to overcome both vaccine-generated and natural host immunity to pathogens;
  • The increasing capacity to confer unusual serological responses to pathogens significantly hampering diagnosis and subsequent treatment; and
  • The increasing capacity to target differences in genetic variation which correlate to ethnicity, geographic distribution or other factors.

States Parties identified a number of developments that have potential benefits for the Convention, including:
  • New silk-based stabilizers for vaccines and antibiotics which could eliminate cold chain refrigeration requirements thus improving access and decreasing associated costs;
  • Biodegradable microneedles that can simplify delivery, reduce cold chain refrigeration requirements, and help stretch limited supplies of vaccines or other treatments;
  • Progress towards point-of-care diagnostic systems suitable for use in resource-limited settings;
  • Increasing capacity to diagnose and treat neurological diseases;
  • Improved health care, more efficient food production, more renewable energy resources and better pollution management resulting from increasing convergence of biology and chemistry.

States Parties identified possible measures for strengthening national biological risk management, including:
  • Strengthening national implementation measures and international monitoring and cooperation, including national biorisk assessments, global management tools and innovative scientific and technical system designs;
  • Strengthening capacity-building and education on biosafety and biosecurity while countering the provision of overly restrictive or elaborate solutions;
  • Formulating best practices to address the dual-use implications of bioscience and technology and the identification and mitigation of risks at the earliest possible stage in the research cycle;
  • Strengthening self-regulation, education and management practices to prevent intentional or inadvertent involvement in activities inconsistent with the Convention;
  • Developing national approaches of how best to balance scientific freedom and progress with legitimate security concerns; and
  • Measures covering the publication of relevant scientific articles, without hampering the free flow of scientific and technological information for peaceful purposes.

States Parties considered the establishment of voluntary codes of conduct and other measures to encourage responsible conduct by scientists, academia and industry, including:
  • Making use of the characteristics of different types of codes, including those covering ethics, behaviour and practice as well as the different layers of codes, such as a universal code, codes developed by scientific societies, and codes developed by individual workplaces;
  • Developing general guidelines and approaches that are of use to individuals and organizations when faced with novel situations and unexpected scenarios;
  • Implementing ethical guidelines to ensure that all research activities only involve microbial or other biological agents of types or in quantities that have justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes;
  • Facilitating the engagement of the general public by the scientific community on issues relevant to the Convention; and
  • Regularly reviewing relevant measures with all relevant stakeholders.

States Parties identified opportunities for education and awareness-raising about risks and benefits of life sciences and biotechnology, including:
  • Additional measures to increase awareness among scientists, academia and industry, such as: outreach by law enforcement agencies; insertion of relevant materials in core texts for science courses; workplace codes; and better linkages with biosafety and biosecurity training;
  • Working with relevant professional and scientific bodies, such as national academies of science, to generate a renewed effort to inculcate awareness of the dual-use challenge at an early stage of professional training;
  • Assimilating efforts relevant to the Convention into broader professional training for scientists in university curricula;
  • Producing education material in more languages, suitable for use in a broader set of national circumstances; and
  • Inviting the scientific community to share its views on how States Parties can better support scientists in efforts relevant to the Convention.

The synthesis document was based upon the contributions made during the Meeting of Experts and reflected in the Report of that meeting.

For further information, please see the Meetings and Documents section.