Consensus Report

Biodefense in the Age of Synthetic Biology (2018)

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

The age of synthetic biology has brought with it opportunities to transform approaches to treating disease, manufacturing chemicals, producing fuels, remediating contaminants, and numerous other applications with benefits to humankind. Some synthetic biology capabilities, however, have dual use potential -- that is, they are capabilities that can be used for beneficial purposes but could be misdirected to cause harm to humans, animals, plants, and the environment. Synthetic biology expands what is possible in creating new types of weapons and expands the range of actors who could undertake such efforts. As a result, approaches to biological and chemical weapons defense will be needed to meet the new challenges.

Produced at the request the U.S. Department of Defense, this new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine considers how synthetic biology capabilities affect the biodefense threat landscape and identifies the capabilities that pose the greatest relative concern. The report also discusses some current approaches for mitigating concerns about the malicious use of biotechnology, how synthetic biology may challenge those approaches, and conversely, how synthetic biology may help address challenges or bolster mitigation approaches.