Life Science Research as a Security Risk

Authored by: Christian Enemark

Routledge Handbook of Global Health Security

Print publication date:  August  2014
Online publication date:  August  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415645478
eBook ISBN: 9780203078563
Adobe ISBN: 9781136155574


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Laboratory research on pathogenic (disease-causing) micro-organisms is in two ways relevant to the relationship between health and security. First, such research informs medical and public health measures to protect individuals and populations against infectious diseases. A disease outbreak almost always occurs as a result of natural processes, but microorganisms have been and can be used deliberately to harm people. In either event, knowledge of how various bacteria and viruses behave inside the human body enables life scientists to develop remedies like antibiotics, antiviral drugs, and vaccines. Such knowledge is particularly valuable for disease-control purposes in circumstances where a disease outbreak causes widespread disruption and anxiety along with illness and death. A scientist who knows what makes pathogens dangerous (and what could make them more dangerous) is someone whose skills could also manifest at the nexus of health and security in precisely the opposite way: he or she could instead apply that knowledge to the design, development, and use of biological weapons. The potential for biotechnology (along with virtually all other technologies) to be used for both benign and malign purposes presents dual-use dilemmas for scientists and policymakers. In practical terms, the challenge when conducting or governing research is to maximize the health benefits to be derived from the life sciences while minimizing the security risks.

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