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  • Writer's pictureSwaha Chakraborty

Dual Use Research - Strategic Publication


Strategic Publication for Dual Use Research The key principle of Dual Use Research is that it can be used for more than one purpose. The same discovery or technology that can be implemented in a productive manner, can also be misapplied by organizations or individuals with malicious intent. This forces policy makers to not only consider the objective of the experiment itself, but the different uses society could have for it. Debates surrounding Dual Use Research have become increasingly frequent in the scientific community and are not limited to Gain of Function Research.


Some well-known Gain of Function Research of Concern experiments include: - The genetic engineering of a super strain mouse-pox virus - 2001 - The artificial synthesis of a “live” polio virus from chemical components - 2002 Reconstruction of the 1918 Spanish Flu virus - 2005 - Creation of highly pathogenic H5N1 (avian) influenza virus strains that were airborne transmissible between ferrets - 2012

Each of these experiments were conducted with ethical intentions and were published with legitimate reason. Nevertheless, they all sparked controversy in the scientific community as many believed that they shouldn’t have been published, or even conducted. For example, the 2012 H5N1 experiment demonstrated that viruses existing in other animals could not only be altered to have a greater transmissibility but could also have their host range altered. A large portion of the scientific community feared that a company with less honorable intentions would use the research to experiment on viruses with the goal of making them transmissible in humans. Which was not farfetched, considering that ferrets are widely considered the most accurate animal model for human influenza.

To effectively increase biosafety and lessen the threat of bioterrorism or biological warfare, it is necessary to decrease the amount of free information available for them to abuse. Specifically Dual Use Research of Concern. Banning the publication of this kind of research all together would be ideal, but it would also lessen the incentive for scientists to continue conducting it. Furthermore, the definition of Dual Use Research of Concern (although we are discussing it in the context of Gain of Function Research), allows it to stem across several fields of research. This would mean that over-regulating in one subcategory would result in scientists asking why those policies do not extend into other research areas as well. A middle ground between free publication and banning it all together, would be strategically censoring the research prior to publication. Censorship should aim to have the research focus on its results rather than the experimental process used to achieve them. This way scientists can still share the fundamental meaning of their work and its implications for the field, without oversharing important procedures that could be potentially recreated with malicious intent.

Transparency from Private Companies Regarding Dual Use Research of Concern However, while Dual Use Research of Concern (DURC) may require censorship during the publication process, companies need to prioritize transparency of their experiments prior to conducting them. As mentioned previously, privately-funded companies are granted a tremendous amount of liberty and privacy in the way they choose to conduct their research, making it difficult to ensure a standard of safety. It is crucial that firms explicitly state their motivation for conducting DURC, and what they intend to do with the results of the research. This is important, not only in the case of government review, but also when hiring researchers. It is not only ethical for researchers to know the purpose of the experiments they are being hired to conduct but would also allow the scientific community to filter out malicious actors (to some extent) through shared morals. It would also allow review boards to perform a more effective risk-benefit analysis on the experiment, as they will understand not only the biosecurity hazards the experiment poses, but also its long term implications for human safety. Essentially, while determining whether a company should be allowed to conduct their desired research, discussion regarding the long term use of the research is equally crucial to the debate as short term biosecurity risks. For example, many research grants provided through military funding is ultimately used by the military in warfare and killing of humans rather than for the welfare of mankind. At the time of performing the research, scientists are usually unaware of how and for what purpose will the outcome of the research be finally used for.

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