Twenty Years After the Patriot Act, What Is the Future of Biosecurity?

Moreover, many changes have taken place since 2001, chief among them:

·  In the twety years since the Patriot Act was passed, some aspects of biological work have become easier to execute.

·  Thanks to more readily accessible equipment, knowledge, and materials, new communities are engaging in life science work. These new actors, such as the do-it-yourself biology (DIYBio) movement, make the traditionally institution-based, top-down governance of the life sciences impossible

·  At the international level, coordinated international governance is becoming more challenging to navigate.

·  Driven by anthropogenic effects such as climate change and ecological degradation, the global environment itself has also changed, with increasing rates of spillover events of epidemic and pandemic potential.

·  Due to the global nature of travel and supply chains, society now requires a much broader capability to respond to outbreaks.

·  The life sciences no longer exist purely at the laboratory bench. Increasingly, biological information is digitized and biological skills have been automated to enable the sharing of knowledge, practices, and lab skills around the globe.

The Patriot Act’s top-down approach cannot fully address this emerging reality, the authors write. Despite twenty years of effort, some old biosecurity issues continue to plague the country, while a whole new biosecurity frontier is opening up.

The authors conclude:

After two decades, we believe it is time to catalyze attention and action toward building the diverse communities, knowledge, and capabilities necessary to address contemporary biosecurity concerns in a more comprehensive, equitable, and holistic fashion. This will involve changing the way the United States regulates biosecurity, but it will also require understanding the changing meaning of biosecurity across different contexts. Biosecurity is an umbrella term used across multiple disciplines. Although we use it here to refer to securing materials, information, and knowledge against malicious ends, biosecurity in the agriculture context can mean taking steps to make sure that infectious disease does not get introduced to plants or animals. An example of this includes efforts to understand and control the transmission of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (more commonly known as mad cow disease) in cow populations—a problem that has cost the United Kingdom significant revenue since the 1990s, as countries, including the United States and China, have at times banned British beef imports because of the disease.

As the globe’s interconnections and frailties become more pronounced, society cannot afford to rely only on the definitions of biosecurity that made sense in previous decades. This is not to say that regulations based on those definitions do not continue to serve a purpose: restricting access to pathogens is an important part of biosecurity. However, as the contours of biological practices and threats change, biosecurity must change to address emergent concerns. This requires not only the methods of the past, but also new tools, expertise, and public-private partnerships. Only in this manner can the biosecurity community and policymakers simultaneously address new biological threats while harnessing the strengths that emerge from connecting and building diverse communities that are committed to keeping the life sciences safe and secure.