Recommendations of the European science academies on biosafety
Against the background of experiments with the influenza virus H5N1, also known as avian influenza, a synthesis report of the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC) suggests measures to the address of researchers, research institutions and funders as well as at the national level to ensure the safety of the general public from dangerous biological agents.
Through experimental mutations of individual genes, organisms may acquire additional functions (“gain of function”), which is helpful for research on pathogens and the development of therapeutic drugs. Such laboratory work attracted the public interest in the recent past due to experiments on avian influenza (influenza A virus H5N1). These studies, which aimed at a better understanding of the transmissibility of this virus, have been controversial because of safety concerns and the potential for misuse. Considering the known elements, the EASAC report critically covers issues such as benefit-risk assessment of such research work, scientific responsibility and self-governance, the role of advisory bodies and the publication of sensitive information.
As an association of national science academies of the EU Member States, and including Switzerland and Norway, EASAC provides the political EU bodies with advice on scientifically relevant topics. Nominated by the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences, biosafety expert Ursula Jenal has been one of the contributing authors to the present EASAC report.