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Necessary Progress in Biosecurity

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We need to strengthen U.S. biosecurity. The Obama White House’s recent policy document on biosecurity, "National Strategy for Countering Biological Threats," judged that biological attacks could place at risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and impose costs exceeding one trillion dollars. A U.N. secretary’s report on terrorism stated that “[t]he most important under-addressed threat relating to terrorism, and one which acutely requires new thinking on the part of the international community, is that of terrorists using a biological weapon.” The U.S. anthrax attacks of 2001 showed that a tiny amount of powder in a few envelopes could cause tremendous national anxiety and disruption, in addition to illness and death. Advances in the biological sciences will improve human health, expand the food supply, and provide countless other benefits. As an example of the pace of change, the cost of human genome sequencing has declined 10,000-fold in the last twenty years. But these advances in science will also lower the cost of creating biological weapons. Given these and many other events, assessments, and trends, it is clear that the United States and other nations must work strongly to counter the threats posed by biological terrorism.

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