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Strategy Session Urged

In a letter, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology argues the US to adopt a biodefense strategy, MIT's Technology Review reports. PCAST adds that new biotech tools like CRISPR, gene therapy, and synthetic DNA could be put to nefarious uses by terrorists.

"While the ongoing growth of biotechnology is a great boon for society, it also holds serious potential for destructive use by both states and technically-competent individuals with access to modern laboratory facilities," the PCAST letter says.

Tech Review notes that such a biodefense strategy was developed in 2009, but that it was disjointed as multiple agencies carried it out. The council now instead suggests that a new unit be tasked with the strategy. At the same time, it also suggests that $2 billion be set aside as part of a fund to respond to any public health crises stemming from biotech tools as well as $250 million a year to stock vaccines. PCAST also calls for supporting the development of new antibiotics and antivirals.

In particular, the council calls out synthetic DNA, gene therapy, and the gene-editing tools like CRISPR as technologies that could be abused. These tools, they say, overcome limitations of previous generations of technologies and are easier and less time-consuming to use.

"If you can get access to the sequence data, that's really all you need," Todd Kuiken from North Carolina State University tells Tech Review.