States-parties to the 1975 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) discussed the implications of emerging technologies and strategies to bolster emergency preparedness during their annual meeting in Geneva on Dec. 3–6.
The BWC bans the development or possession of biological weapons, but rapid advances in the biotechnology field require treaty participants to keep abreast of developments that could have military applications. The treaty has 183 states-parties and four signatory states. Only 10 states have not signed the treaty.
One expert recently stressed the BWC’s fundamental role in creating a global norm against the use of biological weapons. “Any government with any life science capability can now sequence and synthesize whatever it would like to do. Genomes can be engineered to give them new, potentially dangerous characteristics, transforming pathogens that are now benign into pathogens that have the ability to spread or be lethal,” said Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health and Security at Johns Hopkins University, in Nov. 20 testimony before the Senate Armed Services emerging threats subcommittee. To adequately respond to genome sequencing and other emerging, destabilizing technologies, Inglesby advocated for governmental efforts to strengthen the BWC and its implementation by states.—JULIA MASTERSON