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Managing Biotech Technological Innovation in a New Era

June 30, 2011
Written by Kelly Cappio, BIO.

This session focused on technological innovations and how they can be used to prevent, identify, or respond to new natural or man-made threats. As stated by Dr. Alan Rudolph, “We face a very dynamic threat space.” Dr. Rudolph, Director of the Chemical and Biological Technologies Directorate at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, discussed the strategic thrust of the agency and its recent focus on new diagnostic technologies, such as MIMIC, as well as its ongoing focus on basic research. Moving forward, he said, “Science and Technology investments must be positioned for agility, resilience, and innovation to maintain robust response and defense.

The panel discussed two cutting-edge technologies in detail: synthetic biology and nanotechnology. Synthetic biology was defined by Todd Peterson of Life Technologies as engineering life for useful purposes. It is a rapidly growing field of research and a new approach to life sciences that impacts a broad range of industrial applications. It also presents new questions with regard to bio-safety, biosecurity, and bioethics. To prevent nefarious use of synthetic biology, the scientific community and industry must conduct active surveillance and protect this technology.

Nanoparticles represent a new threat to security in which countermeasures are needed. According to Antonietta Gatti of the Italian Institute of Technology Project on Nanoecotoxicology, “Nanoparticles could be used as a new, cheap form of terrorism.” Yet, “there are no procedures set up to prevent humans, animals, and the environment from nanoparticle threats.”

Edward You of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) stressed the importance of increasing biosecurity without impeding the development of new technologies. The FBI has conducted outreach to companies and universities to develop partnerships to identify and better manage biosecurity risks. The FBI established the Synthetic Biology Tripwire Initiative, a partnership with the U.S. synthetic biology industry, to report suspicious requests for genetic sequences. This initiative has benefited both the agency and industry and will help prevent rogue use of synthetic biology.