Bringing science and development together through news and analysis

  • Life scientists should 'first, do no harm'


Advances in the life sciences raise the threat that biological agents could be used in an act of bioterrorism or biological warfare.

Writing in the latest issue of Science, Margaret A. Somerville and Ronald M. Atlas propose a code of ethics for life science research as a means of reducing this threat.

In line with the medical profession's Hippocratic Oath, the code highlights the need for life scientists to "first, do no harm". It proposes to limit access to biological agents that could be used as weapons and would encourage researchers to report any activities that they believe could contribute to bioterrorism or biowarfare.

The authors say their code is not a total solution, and that many will oppose it for a variety of reasons, but add that in combination with other efforts, a code of ethics for life scientists would help deter what they call a "grave threat to humanity".

Somerville and Atlas say that ethics is likely to prevail in life science research so long as a small core of voices continues to try to encourage others to work within an ethical framework.

Link to full article in Science

Reference: Science 307, 1881 (2005)

We encourage you to republish this article online and in print, it’s free under our creative commons attribution license, but please follow some simple guidelines:
  1. You have to credit our authors.
  2. You have to credit SciDev.Net — where possible include our logo with a link back to the original article.
  3. You can simply run the first few lines of the article and then add: “Read the full article on SciDev.Net” containing a link back to the original article.
  4. If you want to also take images published in this story you will need to confirm with the original source if you're licensed to use them.
  5. The easiest way to get the article on your site is to embed the code below.
For more information view our media page and republishing guidelines.