DURHAM, NC, Sept. 29 (GenomeWeb News) - In an era of heightened concern about the ability of terrorists to access data and research technology that could be used for bioterror attacks, TIGR president Claire Fraser told an audience at the 11th International Conference on Microbial Genomes that the perceived apathy of the scientific community toward security concerns could lead to blanket legislation stifling scientific exchange. "The issue has raised its ugly head yet again," she said, referring to the possibility that law enforcement or legislative action could censor research that might be useful to bioterrorists.
Outside the scientific community, there's the impression that scientists aren't dealing with the situation seriously enough, she said. Fraser warned that this could lead to legislation that swings the pendulum too far toward muzzling free interchange of data. In remarks separately to GenomeWeb, Fraser cited the current ban on creating new lines of stem cells as one example of overzealous federal intervention.
To ward off such top-down directives for genomics research, Fraser told GenomeWeb that she hopes scientists involved in biological pathogen research become more vocal in acknowledging the potential their work has for misuse. "We need to not proceed with blinders on," she said. She also urged editors at scientific publications to engage in discussions with authors about ways to avoid releasing information easily manipulated for nefarious purposes.
Fraser made only a brief appearance at the conference, held near Duke University in Durham, NC, because tomorrow she will participate in an NAS-led meeting in DC, Genomics Databases for Bioterrorism Threat Agents: Striking a Balance for Information Sharing, to discuss how microbial genomics researchers can contribute to identifying the culprits responsible for bioterror attacks, as well as fending them off in the first place. "I don't know how the issue will be resolved," Fraser said.