Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies Program on Energy and Sustainable Development Stanford University


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Microbial threat lists: obstacles in the quest for biosecurity?

Journal Article

Arturo Casadevall - Departments of Microbiology and Immunology and of Medicine (Division of Infectious Diseases), Albert Einstein College of Medicine
David Relman - Departments of Medicine and of Microbiology and Immunology, Stanford

Published by
Nature Reviews Microbiology, Vol. 8 no. 2, page(s) 149-154
February 2010


Anxiety about threats from the microbial world and about the deliberate misuse of microorganisms has led to efforts to define and control these dangers using lists and regulations. One list with tremendous legal implications and a potentially huge impact on research is the Select Agents and Toxins List, which was created by the US Government to limit the possession of and access to particular microorganisms and toxins. In this article, in addition to highlighting general problems with taxonomy-based, microorganism-centric lists, we discuss our view that such lists may have the paradoxical effect of increasing the societal vulnerability to biological attack and natural epidemics by interfering with the sharing of microbial samples and hindering research on vaccines and therapeutics.