Biosafety Talkshop: Why we welcome the 6th National Biosafety Conference
Never before has biosafety been as critical as today. Simply because of the level of sophistication of the technology we have on hand today. From gene editing to artificial intelligence, the risk of escape of life forms, both biological and artificial — such as robotics –, that are well capable of disruption of biological integrity has never been greater.
Moreover, as the relationship between science, technology and society in the 21st century gets increasingly shaped by principles of New Public Management — in line with economic and geopolitical trends — we have seen a multi-polar world emerge as far as important scientific discoveries go.
No further evidence for this bold claim is needed other than the realization that some of the pioneering work with CRISPR, the pioneer gene editing technology, has come from Chinese researchers. Merely thirty years ago, this would have been unfathomable.
What the Chinese work — and other less palatable claims such as the constant speculation over a North Korea ‘s Bioterrorism program — reveals is a phenomenon that I’d term as ‘ubiquity’ of the scientific research enterprise. Ground breaking scientific research is an undertaking whose sophistication — nee by the dark troughs of the science policy valley of death — present an entry barrier.
A barrier that today is easily becoming easy less fortuitous to navigate thanks to technology. Fueled in no small parts by the interplay of strategic interests, which are not always altruistic, in a fluid state of cooperation and defection between players with increasingly lesser fidelity .
Biosafety at the crossroads
Indeed, Bill Gates and the Bill and Melinda Foundation succinctly capture this double-edged nature of scientific progress in a multi-polar world in an Op-Ed for Business Insider: BILL GATES: A new kind of terrorism could wipe out 30 million people in less than a year — and we are not prepared
It’s also true that the next epidemic could originate on the computer screen of a terrorist intent on using genetic engineering to create a synthetic version of the smallpox virus . . . or a super contagious and deadly strain of the flu.
They go on to add that:
The good news is that with advances in biotechnology, new vaccines and drugs can help prevent epidemics from spreading out of control. And, most of the things we need to do to protect against a naturally occurring pandemic are the same things we must prepare for an intentional biological attack
That both the ‘bad guys’ and ‘the good guys’ have almost similar access to the same technology. Therefore, the imbalance of information that may have bestowed a strategic advantage to the ‘good guys’ is quickly being eroded. What’s even more worrying for players in biosafety space is how to ensure the two key processes in biosafety : constant surveillance and fidelity to agreed rules; become responsive to this new environment, whilst still maintaining their integrity.
The narrow path to safety
If constant surveillance is the habit that makes biosafety a reality, then we have to employ 21st century tools such as cyber physical systems for surveillance. The thinking here is simple: use a thief to catch a thief. If biosafety is about the laid down rules that one needs to follow to realize safety, then we also have to think about how much autonomy we are willing to cede to these systems.
The Asilomar AI principles do a great job with the black and white aspects of the answers to these questions; but the sheer fast pace and scale at which scientific research in disciplines that are biosafety sensitive threatens to overrun any discussions that might be ongoing in defining the grey areas.
Ethical conduct is after all about meddling in the grey areas. Pronouncements by AI researchers and founders of companies in artificial intelligence and robotics — even if backed by the weight of 21st century leading lights like Elon Musk — always runs the risk of being categorized as partisan thanks to them having skin in the game.
6th National Biosafety Conference
This is why scientific conferences are always a welcome initiative. Even if the value of such gatherings is nostalgic in the realm of the infamous discussions said to occur at Archimedes’ alma mater: the University of Alexandria in Egypt.
It is for this reason that we welcome the 6th Annual National Biosafety Conference OCTOBER 3rd- 6th, 2017 AT KENYA SCHOOL OF MONETARY STUDIES (KSMS), NAIROBI, KENYA. CONFERENCE THEME:Mainstreaming Biosafety in Emerging Biotechnologies for Sustainable Development. Full conference poster and call for abstracts
Pre-conference workshops on:
- Comparative analysis of Food safety assessments of conventional and GM crops Emerging technologies for gene editing (Genome Editing and Gene Drives)
- Bioinformatics in Risk Assessment of GMOs.
Regulatory Compliance for GMO trials.
Post Commercializaon Monitoring and Product Stewardship of GM crops
- Biotechnology and Biosafety Communication
Conference topics will include presentations on various subtopics which include:
- International laws on biosafety and local biosafety regulatory frameworks
- Biotechnology and genetic engineering
- Emerging biotechnologies in agriculture, food, health and animal biotechnology
- Safety assessment of GMOs (Food/feed safety and Environmental risk assessment)
- Public participation and decision-making process
- Global status of biotechnology(agri-biotech crops, livestock biotech research and case study of Bt cotton in Kenya)
- Biosecurity and dual-use research
- Biosafety communication
- Laboratory biosafety
- Certification and accreditation of biosafety facilities
- Occupational health and safety
- Socioeconomic and political considerations in decision making
To submit an abstract or seek clarifications, please contact us on:
National Biosafety Authority
Commission for University Education Building
P.O. Box 28251- 00100, Nairobi