Rapid advances in genomics have radically changed the way we do biological research but have also created concerns that new technologies could be applied to offensive biological weapons programs. In particular, the ability to rapidly sequence and synthesize DNA combined with freely available genome and protein sequence information for every major human pathogen, provides a virtual parts list for bioweapons engineering. When considering each of these tools alone they may seem harmless, however, it is becoming increasingly apparent that information about the mechanisms of pathogenicity coupled with modern molecular engineering and transgenic technology has increased the potential for misuse.
In the fall of 2001, Dr. Eckard Wimmer of the State University of New York (SUNY) at Stony Brook surprised the scientific community when he announced that his lab had been able to assemble synthetic poliovirus by piecing together the viral genome based on its sequence, publicly available on the internet. This set off a serious debate over the potential of using database information and DNA synthesis technology to create biological agents.