Synthetic biology raises risk of new bioweapons, US report warns

Report warns that swift progress in our ability to manufacture viruses is making us vulnerable to biological attacks

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The rapid rise of synthetic biology, a futuristic field of science that seeks to master the machinery of life, has raised the risk of a new generation of bioweapons, according a major US report into the state of the art.

Advances in the area mean that scientists now have the capability to recreate dangerous viruses from scratch; make harmful bacteria more deadly; and modify common microbes so that they churn out lethal toxins once they enter the body.

The three scenarios are picked out as threats of highest concern in a review of the field published on Tuesday by the US National Academy of Sciences at the request of the Department of Defense. The report was commissioned to flag up ways in which the powerful technology might be abused, and to focus minds on how best to prepare.

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