Wealthy nations should promote the use of biotechnology in developing countries as this would combat the risk of 'bioterrorism' — the use of living agents such as bacteria to attack people or plants — says a report released today (February 27).
It urges the G8 group of most industrialised nations to create a global network of experts, leaders and citizens to help poorer nations develop and regulate biotechnology by providing training and policy advice.
The report says that boosting developing countries' capacity to use biotechnology as a tool for development would increase vigilance against the science being misused.
It highlights the ways biotechnology can assist developing countries, ranging from producing vaccines to breeding improved crop varieties.
But fears are growing that, with so much scientific information in the public domain, individuals, groups or even states could use biotechnology to develop chemical weapons fairly easily.
Co-author Abdallah Daar of the University of Toronto's Joint Center for Bioethics, Canada says the network would be particularly useful in Africa, as many nations there lack policies regulating biotechnology research.
Last year, delegates at a meeting in Uganda warned that a failure to address concerns over biological weapons could undermine efforts to develop and instill confidence in science (see African science policy 'must address bioterror threat').