Garrett calls regulations for synthetic biology weak

A global health expert and Pulitzer Prize-winning author recently called the international regulations governing synthetic biology weak and inconsistent.

Laurie Garrett, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of "I Heard the Sirens Scream," said that the reaction caused when two teams of scientists attempted to publish their research on the H5N1 avian flu showed just how unprepared governments are to deal with the synthetic-biology revolution, according to

Ron Fouchier of Erasmus University of Rotterdam and Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin led separate scientific teams that made a highly contagious, super-virulent form of the bird flu virus.

"By the end of 2011, few governments or scientific committees were satisfied with the actions that had been taken to date to limit publication of the methods Fouchier and Kawaoka deployed, and most were frankly frightened," Garret said, reports. "The Fouchier episode laid bare the emptiness of biological-weapons prevention programs on the global, national, and local levels."

According to Garrett, the chief agreement governing all bioweapons work is the Biological Weapons Convention, an out-of-date and toothless agreement. Garrett says the BWC was developed in the 1970s and frames the bioweapons problem in classic nation-state terms.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent appearance at the BWC review conference in Geneva highlights the increasing importance that policy makers are placing on the question, as Garrett puts it: "How do you balance the universal mandate for scientific openness against the fear that terrorists or rogue states might follow the researchers' work - using it as catastrophic cookbooks for global influenza contagion?"