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Dual-use research

Medical, biological and agricultural developments often require research that involves various pathogenic microorganisms. Research that could also possibly be misapplied to pose a threat to public health, animal health or the environment is referred to as ‘dual-use’ research.

‘Dual use’ implies that the biological agents and knowledge about these agents can be used for two different purposes. On the one hand, many pathogenic organisms are very important to research and development in the fields of medicine, biology and agriculture. However, some of these organisms can also be used to develop biological weapons that may pose a threat to public health and the environment.
The term ‘dual-use research’ can be extended with the words ‘of concern’. ‘Dual-use research of concern’ is the type of research that could be misused directly and whereby such misuse would have major consequences. The consequences of misuse may not only concern the number of casualties, but also large-scale social disruption.
In 2007, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) was commissioned by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science to draw up a Code of Conduct for Biosecurity. This code of conduct is aimed at raising awareness of the risks of working with high-risk pathogens. At the end of 2013, the KNAW also published the advisory report ‘Improving biosecurity – Assessment of dual-use research.’ These two documents contain codes of conduct and guidelines that help scientists and organisations when dealing with dual-use research.