Bioscience advances raise fears of terrorism

Rapid advances in the biosciences are causing concern among terrorism experts who fear that amateur scientists may soon be able to concoct dangerous pathogens.

While many experts have doubted that terrorists would have the technical capability to acquire and deploy deadly agents, some once exotic scientific advances, such as DNA cloning, can now be carried out by amateurs, the Wall Street Journal reports. Experts now fear that the revolution occurring in the biological sciences, while not aiding in the acquisition of pathogens, aids the proliferation of dangerous know-how.

"Certain areas of biotechnology are getting more accessible to people with malign intent," Jonathan Tucker, an expert on biological and chemical weapons at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told the Wall Street Journal.

Geneticist Craig Venter, whose creation of a synthetic organism pushed the debate about the risks of bioscience from medical journals to Washington, D.C., is concerned.

"If students can order any [genetic sequences] online, somebody could try to make the Ebola virus," Venter said to the Wall Street Journal. "We are limited more by our imagination now than any technological limitations."

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has even begun reaching out to amateur biologists, teaching them to properly secure their research and explaining to them the risks posed by unscrupulous scientists.

Not everyone agrees. It remains exceedingly difficult to isolate or create, mass produce, weaponize and deploy deadly pathogens. Despite better technology, many of the old challenges remain.

"I don't think the threat is growing, but quite the opposite," Milton Leitenberg, a biological-weapons expert at the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, told the Wall Street Journal. "The idea that four guys in a cave are going to create bioweapons from scratch — that will be never, ever, ever."