UN official warns forum about misuse of synthetic biology

An official from the United Nations' Office for Disarmament Affairs recently said that greater efforts need to be made to prevent acts of bioterrorism.

Dr. Piers Millet, the deputy head of the UN's Implementation Support Unit for the Biological Weapons Convention and a trained microbiologist, warned participants of the BioDesign Forum on synthetic biology that new technological advances give rise to new threats, according to the BBC.

"If you look at the history of the last century we see a very clear trend - every time we make a major step forward in our understanding of biology, we find a weapons application for it," Millet said, the BBC reports.

Millet said that while international bodies exist to safeguard against dangerous groups or rogue nations acquiring chemical or nuclear weapons, no such organization exists to ensure biotechnology is not used for a nefarious purpose.

"The traditional approach of the international community to dealing with weapons is this - they recognize a threat, develop a treaty, and then they turn that treaty into some operational form, normally by trying to control technology associated with it," Millet said, BBC reports. "It has very strong models in nuclear and chemical spheres - but not in regards to synthetic biology."

Millet said that it is possible to develop a international control regime in the biological arena that is capable of balancing security needs with the legal right to access for the peaceful use of new technology.