Hillary Clinton warns of gene assembly's ability to create bioweapons

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently warned that gene assembly technology research could potentially be used by terrorists to create biological weapons.

Clinton said in a speech at the Sixteenth Session of the Conference of the States Parties in the Hague, Netherlands, that scientists needed to maximize the benefits of their research in the field while minimizing the risk it could be used for harm, according to the Associated Press.

Bioweapons have garnered little attention in recent years in comparison to the threat of nuclear proliferation by countries like Iran and North Korea, but experts are concerned by the growing ease with which new agents can be produced in an attempt to start a global epidemic.

"The emerging gene synthesis industry is making genetic material more widely available," Clinton said, the AP reports. "This has many benefits for research, but it could also potentially be used to assemble the components of a deadly organism."

Gene synthesis allows for the creation of genetic material inside a laboratory, which greatly decreases the time needed to create artificial viruses and bacteria.

The U.S. government cited several efforts by terrorist networks, such as al-Qaeda, to recruit scientists capable of using such technology as a national security threat.

"A crude but effective terrorist weapon can be made using a small sample of any number of widely available pathogens, inexpensive equipment, and college-level chemistry and biology," Clinton said, according to the AP. "Less than a year ago, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula made a call to arms for, and I quote, 'brothers with degrees in microbiology or chemistry ... to develop a weapon of mass destruction.'”

Washington has urged countries to increase transparency in their effort to lower the threat of bioweapons, but U.S. officials have shied away from calling for a formal international verification system, citing the complications that would be involved in monitoring the vast number of labs that would have to be monitored.