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EMBL/EMBO Joint Conference 2002

Freddy Frischknecht, Malaria Biology and Genetics Unit, Institute Pasteur, Paris, France

Biography

Freddy is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Malaria Biology and Genetics Unit of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, where he investigates the interactions between Malaria parasites and their host cells. Freddy studied biochemistry at the Freie UniversitSt Berlin before undertaking his diploma research in neurophysiology at the Laboratory for Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK. For his PhD at the EMBL in Heidelberg he worked on the interactions of vaccinia virus, a close relative to the smallpox virus, with its host cells. During this time he developed a scientific as well as historical and political interest for infectious diseases and their crippling influence on societies. Having been part of the Science and Society committee at EMBL, he is happy to come back to Heidelberg to chair the session on biological weapons.

Abstract

Biological weapons: Uses and abuses of infectious agents

Biological and toxin weapons have been used in wars long before their biological functions were understood. After Koch and Pasteur founded the field of microbiology it was soon possible to generate vast amounts of disease causing organisms not just for vaccine but also malignant purposes. With the advent of genetic engineering it has been feasible to create more virulent strains of viruses and antibiotic resistant bacteria that are being feared to constitute potential agents for future warfare or terrorism. Therefore, like any other scientific discipline, microbiology creates new knowledge that can be exploited by well and less well meaning people. The dangers of genetic engineering techniques and their influence (or not) on our ethical thinking and societal well being have been discussed in length during previous symposia(1). There is little ethical discussion necessary when talking about the tremendous human toll of infectious diseases (the drive to act seems imperative) and it is hoped that the previous sessions of this symposium will inform about the political challenges we face in dealing with natural occurring infections. As organizers, we decided to include a session on biological warfare and terrorism to accommodate a debate about the particular political challenges these 'unnatural' events pose and to provide a forum to discuss their future potential threads.

To provide a basis for discussion the Chair will first give a short historical introduction to biological warfare and bioterrorism (2). The speakers of the session will then give deeper insights into the dual-use problem of modern biological technology (Jan van Aken, Sunshine Project and University of Hamburg) and indicate the challenges for the implementation of international treaties to limit the production and stockpiling of biological weapons (Volker Beck, German Foreign Office, Berlin and John Walker, British Foreign Office, London).

References

  1. Christopher, G. W., Cieslak, T. J. Pavlin J. A., and Eitzen E. M., Biological Warfare, a historical perspective. Journal of the American Medical Association, Volume 278, No. 5, p 412-417, 1997.
  2. Journal of Molecular Biology, Volume 319, No. 4, 14 June, 2002 (special issue).