Experts say synthetic biology makes bioterrorism more accessible

Biodefense and counter-terrorism experts Patrick Rose and Adam Bernier said on Monday that advancements in synthetic biology could give more options to organizations that want to develop and pursue biological weapons.


The pair published a two-part series on CBRNePortal explaining that advancements in synthetic biology and "DIYbio" have made biological weapons more accessible to non-state and terrorist organizations.


"The emergence of synthetic biology and DIYbio has increased the likelihood that Al Qaeda will succeed in developing biological WMDs," Rose and Bernier said. "The low cost and significantly reduced level of necessary expertise may change how many non-state actors view biological weapons as a worthwhile investment."


They said the international community should begin to develop a policy that would protect against the intentional misuse of synthetic biology.


"A successful attack with a potent biological weapon, where no pharmaceutical interventions might exist, will be deadly and the impact of such an attack will reverberate around the globe because biological weapons are not bound by international borders," Rose and Bernier said.


Even in the absence of biological attacks, Rose and Bernier said there are many organizations that are actively seeking biological weapons, including the global Al Qaeda network.


"The principal message from Al Qaeda Central and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has included the call to use biological WMDs to terrorize Western nations," Rose and Bernier said.


They said that before the U.S. war on terror, Al Qaeda had built a bio-laboratory, and had started "collecting scientists" to run it.


Rose and Bernier reported that 33 biological terror attacks have occurred globally since 1971, with the majority of biological attacks taking place during 2001.