A grant received by Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust aims to help prevent misuse of biological developments and to enhance biosecurity education
Date: 28 July 2023
The Biological Security Research Centre (BSRC) at London Met has been awarded a £81,785 grant from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) to help enhance biosecurity education for life scientists in the UK and around the world over the next two years through the development of an International Biological Security Education Network.
The UK Biological Security Strategy makes clear that biological security involves the prevention of natural, accidental and deliberately caused disease in humans, animals and plants, and that this strategy has to be continually maintained and developed during this period of rapid scientific and technological change.
Recently the World Health Organization (WHO) pointed out in its Global Framework for the Responsible Use of the Life Sciences that: “A chronic and fundamental challenge is a widespread lack of awareness that work in this area – which is predominantly undertaken to advance knowledge and tools to improve health, economies, and societies – could be conducted or misused in ways that result in health and security risks to the public. Also, incentives to identify and mitigate such risks are lacking.”
This means scientists who are creating the revolution in biotechnology for benign purposes are often not aware that their projects could be used for both positive and negative purposes, so are largely unable to engage their expertise in prevention of the misuse of their work for malign purposes.
States Parties to the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC) have given considerable attention to the possibility of dealing with this problem, through the development of relevant codes of conduct for life scientists. Recently, the scientific community has developed the Tianjin Biosecurity Guidelines for that purpose. However, such guidelines will not be implemented in effective codes of conduct without major improvement in the biosecurity education of life scientists.
Professor Malcolm Dando, visiting professor to London Met BSRC and co-investigator in this grant said, “through this project, we hope to build a similar educational mechanism to those developed for chemists under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and for nuclear scientists by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to provide an applicable implementing method in BTWC biosecurity education”.
The development of this network will be regularly reported to meetings of the BTWC in Geneva as the States Parties attempt to strengthen the Convention in the new Intersessional Process agreed at the 9th 5 Year Review Conference in December 2022.
Professor Lijun Shang, the Director of London Met BSRC and the principal investigator in this grant stated that: “This grant will enable my centre to begin the development of a network of biosecurity education lecturers and teachers in the UK and around the world. My centre has conducted several projects focusing on biosecurity education and civil society support to UN BTWC. This is our second grant from JRCT, and I hope it will further strength the centre’s leading role in biosecurity education and bring significant impact globally through this grant.”
The project is designed to run for two years, starting in September 2023.