Research Topic

Dual-use life science research and biosecurity in the 21st Century: Social, Technical, Policy, and Ethical Challenges

About this Research Topic

In September 2011, scientists announced new experimental findings that would not only threaten the conduct and publication of influenza research, but would have significant policy and intelligence implications. The findings presented a modified variant of the H5N1 avian influenza virus (hereafter referred to ...

In September 2011, scientists announced new experimental findings that would not only threaten the conduct and publication of influenza research, but would have significant policy and intelligence implications. The findings presented a modified variant of the H5N1 avian influenza virus (hereafter referred to as the H5N1 virus) that was transmissible via aerosol between ferrets. These results suggested a worrisome possibility: the existence of a new airborne and highly lethal H5N1 virus that could cause a deadly global pandemic.

In response, a series of international discussions on the nature of dual-use life science arose. These discussions addressed the complex social, technical, political, security, and ethical issues related to dual-use research.

This Research Topic will be devoted to contributions that explore this matrix of issues from a variety of case study and international perspectives. Contributions that address some of the questions highlighted in the below themes are requested. Opinion and Commentary pieces will be especially welcome from authors in policy and governmental settings.

Life science research and biosecurity

-What particular scientific work in the life sciences is especially fraught with dual-use challenges?
-How is life science research becoming securitized?
-What implications does this have for both science and policy?
-What important factors, conditions, and time scales shape the development and transfer of dual-use biotech-nologies? -How can these be applied to understand specific state and non-state actor threats?
-What are important considerations for science and technology assessments for dual-use life science research? What factors have been underexplored?
-What ethical issues arise in contemporary dual-use life science research and biotechnology developments? What new practices and policies could be implemented to deal with ethical concerns?

Public health preparedness and biosecurity

-What important public health issues arise along with security concerns on dual-use life science research?
-How do public health agencies interact with intelligence communities to assess the threats from dual-use research and bioterrorism?
-What preparedness measures are public health agencies undertaken to address threats from dual-use research and from bioterrorism?
-What are the consequences of dual-use concerns for the exchange of biological material for public health research?

Policy and intelligence contexts

-How well do current national and international regimes and laws deal with dual-use research? What improve-ments are needed?
-What problems do intelligence analysts face in keeping up with dual-use developments in the life sciences?
-How is knowledge being produced about dual-use life science threats? By whom? What implications does this have for policymaking?
-What kinds of expert knowledge are needed by intelligence and policy practitioners in assessments and policy responses for dual-use life science research? What are the politics of expert knowledge in this domain?

Dual-use research and public deliberation

-What does/should responsible innovation and governance look like with dual-use life science research?
-What historical perspectives on dual-use research can help inform science, public,


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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