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CBNRE / BioSecurity

“Disease in a Time of Uncertainty”
by Nicholas G. Evans
The Ethics Center, 20 February 2020

…it can be really easy to get complacent before the fact, and even easier to overreact after the outbreak starts. This leads us to take drastic actions such as to violate human rights in the name of protecting public safety (or at least appearing to protect safety), even when those actions are shown to be ineffective. But this is because instead of winning a dollar, preparedness costs us that dollar. It’s hard to get governments to spend dollars today that might not benefit us until 2030, but if we wait until we need it, we could lose everything.

It turns out that the best solution to these scary, uncertain diseases is to invest, as a society, day to day. That costs resources, but it’ll help out when the “big one,” the next 1918 flu, comes. COVID-19 is unlikely to be that kind of pandemic, but even it is testing global health systems.

“Biologists rush to re-create the China coronavirus from its DNA code”
by Antonio Regaldo
MIT Technology Review, 15 February 2020

The world is watching with alarm as China struggles to contain a dangerous new virus, now being called SARS-CoV-2. It has quarantined entire cities, and the US has put a blanket ban on travellers who’ve been there. Health officials are scrambling to understand how the virus is transmitted and how to treat patients.

But in one University of North Carolina lab, there’s a different race. Researchers are trying to create a copy of the virus. From scratch.

“Coronavirus shows our health agencies are ill prepared for fake news”
by Kat Eschner
Popular Science, 11 February 2020

A Harvard-affiliated epidemiologist. The president. Untold (and mostly anonymous) people online. The outbreak of 2019 novel coronavirus has been clouded by false information from these sources and more, ranging from stretched half-truths to downright fakes. In a still-evolving public health situation like this one, such misinformation stokes panic and makes it harder to quell the spread of disease. But the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is ill-prepared to combat digital disinfo.

“China locked down millions in coronavirus-hit Hubei. Has it done more harm than good?”
by Jane Cai
South China Morning Post, 8 February 2020

As the death toll continues to mount in Wuhan and the other cities under lockdown, questions have been raised over whether the drastic measures have left residents in a worse position given the chronic shortage of hospital beds and medical supplies in the province.

“To fight coronavirus spread, the U.S. may expand ‘social distancing’ measures. But it comes at a cost”
by Shraddha Chakradhar
STAT, 3 February 3 2020

Canceling large public gatherings. Asking students to stay home from school. Closing down borders.

Many places around the world have already implemented such drastic steps in response to the new coronavirus outbreak that originated in China and has spread to at least 27 territories outside mainland China. If the U.S., which has 11 cases so far, begins to see sustained human-to-human transmission, health officials may also have to rapidly step up their own use of “social distancing” measures to prevent further spread.

“Crop-protecting insects could be turned into bioweapons, critics warn”
by Kai Kupferschmidt
Science, 4 October 2018

It sounds like science fiction: A research program funded by the U.S. government plans to create virus-carrying insects that, released in vast numbers, could help crops fight threats such as pests, drought, or pollution. “Insect Allies,” as the $45 million, 4-year program is called, was launched in 2016 with little fanfare. But in a policy forum in this week’s issue of Science, five European researchers paint a far bleaker scenario.

How Canadian Researchers Reconstituted an Extinct Poxvirus for $100,000 Using Mail-Order DNA
by Kai Kupferschmidt
Science, 7 July 2017

Eradicating smallpox, one of the deadliest diseases in history, took humanity decades and cost billions of dollars. Bringing the scourge back would probably take a small scientific team with little specialized knowledge half a year and cost about $100,000.

That’s one conclusion from an unusual and as-yet unpublished experiment performed…

Defining Dual-Use Research: When Scientific Advances Can Both Help and Hurt Humanity
by Nicholas G. Evans and Aerin Commins
The Conversation, 2 February 2017

Scientific research can change our lives for the better, but it also presents risks – either through deliberate misuse or accident. Think about studying deadly pathogens; that’s how we can learn how to successfully ward them off, but it can be a safety issue too, as when CDC workers were exposed…

Ebola is Not a Weapon
by Nicholas G. Evans
Slate, 10 October 2014

Stop it. Just stop it. Ebola isn’t a potential weapon for terrorists.

It isn’t, as reported by Forbes and the Daily Mail, a low-tech weapon of bioterror for ISIS. It isn’t the final refuge of a lone wolf on a suicide mission, in the words of Fox News. It isn’t…

What Science Should We Fund? Questioning New Policy on H5N1 Gain-of-Function Research
by Nicholas G. Evans
Scientific American Blogs, 15 January 2013

Science can be risky business, but it is important to know what those risks are. It is established wisdom that we need to experiment on viruses, for example, to better defend against emerging infectious diseases. But there is a fine line between creating a new strain of avian influenza to…

Middle East Respiratory Virus Came from Camels not Terrorists
by Ian M. Mackay, Katherine Arden, Lisa Murillo, Maia Majumder, Nicholas G. Evans, and Stephen Goldstein
The Conversation, 30 July 2014

The Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is a tiny, spiky package of fat, proteins and genes that was first found in a dying man in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2012.

Since then, we have learnt a little more about the virus. We know that nearly 90% of…

Lab Safety Needs to be More Open in the Face of Risky Pandemic Flu Research
by Nicholas G. Evans
The Conversation, 18 July 2014

The danger of reporting findings before peer review is that scientists often can’t talk about the details of their research, which can lead to hype or fear in the media.

A recent example of this is a controversial influenza study led by Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, first…

Avian Superflu and the Censorship of Science
by Nicholas G. Evans
The Conversation, 22 December 2011

Two studies, one carried out in the Netherlands by Ron Fouchier and the other in Japan by Yoshihiro Kawaoka, are causing controversy over the creation of a new strain of H5N1 Avian Influenza or “bird flu” in ferrets.

The studies have resulted in a new strain of bird flu that’s…

The Good, the Bad and the Deadly – The Dark Side of Biotechnology
by Nicholas G. Evans
The Conversation, 15 May 2011

The life sciences provide a great opportunity to improve our lives. But our newfound power in this field also gives us the means to destroy ourselves.

In 2002, Dr Eckard Wimmer and his lab at the State University of New York, published the results of a very interesting experiment…