BRIEFER: Key U.S. Initiatives for Addressing Biological Threats – Part 2

By Chris Fall, Yong-Bee Lim, and Christine Parthemore

The COVID-19 crisis has forcefully demonstrated both the seriousness of the threat posed by natural and anthropogenic biological risks and the incredible strides gained in modern biotechnology to address these risks, such as with the novel RNA-based vaccines developed to help halt the pandemic. In this context, modern biological sciences are a key area of scientific competition with profound implications for the future of mankind and the health of the planet. 

Enter the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The DOE has a long history in developing and advancing basic science and technologies for national security and economic advancement. The department has unique capabilities and talent, including leading experts in the fundamental sciences, and cutting-edge tools and infrastructure that public and private partners can leverage to facilitate both discovery and innovation. Further, DOE’s history and missions have made it a center of excellence in executing science and technology development at scale.

The DOE has also mobilized its National Laboratories (the Labs) to respond to a number of significant national and international crises, including the 9/11 attacks, the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear accident in Japan, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Most recently, the DOE and the Labs have participated in the response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, including genomics and structural biology of the virus, complex epidemiological modeling of disease spread, and addressing supply bottlenecks for critical items such as masks, parts for ventilator systems, and consumables for testing kits. 

The United States can further leverage DOE to address future natural and anthropogenic threats. This briefer examines the current state of DOE and the Labs in the biological risk space and provides recommendations and implementation pathways to catalyze greater usage of these underutilized resources.

In the second briefer in its Key U.S. Initiatives for Addressing Biological Threats series, CSR experts in collaboration with longtime DOE expert Dr. Chris Fall (who most recently led the department’s Office of Science) propose several new ideas to maximize the capabilities of the Labs for addressing biological threats. These include:

  • Positioning the Labs to be world leaders in engineering biology, for which the potential exists today but must be augmented with a clarified mission and programmatic support.
  • Launching a Biosecurity Reserve Corps to better allow nongovernmental experts to surge into cooperation with the Labs when potentially-significant biological threats emerge.
  • Re-establishing the Chemical and Biological Nonproliferation Program
  • And more.

Read the full briefer here.

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