Rapid advances in bioscience are raising alarms among terrorism experts that amateur scientists will soon be able to gin up deadly pathogens for nefarious uses. Fears of bioterror have been on the rise since the September 11, 2001, attacks, stoking tens of billions of dollars of government spending on defenses, and the White House and Congress continue to push for new measures.The new fear is that scientific advances that enable amateur scientists to carry out once-exotic experiments, such as DNA cloning, could be put to criminal use. Many well-known figures are sounding the alarm over the revolution in biological science, which amounts to a proliferation of know-how—if not the actual pathogens. “Certain areas of biotechnology are getting more accessible to people with malign intent,” said an expert on biological and chemical weapons at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. A geneticist said last month at the first meeting of a presidential commission on bioethics, “If students can order any [genetic sequences] online, somebody could try to make the Ebola virus.” Scientists have the ability to manipulate genetic material more quickly and more cheaply all the time. Just as “Moore’s Law” describes the accelerating pace of advances in computer science, advances in biology are becoming more potent and accessible every year, experts note. However, many experts caution that, despite scientific advances, it is still exceedingly tough for terrorists to isolate or create, mass produce and deploy deadly bugs. Tens of thousands of Soviet scientists spent decades trying to weaponize pathogens, with mixed results. Though science has advanced greatly since the Cold War, many of the same challenges remain.
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