Lab screw-ups with smallpox and anthrax show we must rethink biosecurity

Over the past couple of years, American labs have been caught mishandling biological samples that require extreme care: things like smallpox, anthrax, and avian flu. Largely in response to this, the White House issued a memo this past October 29 that outlined its vision of our future biosecurity and safety.

But in last week's Science, a trio of academics from Stanford lamented that the memo's approach was insufficient. Their exact criticism: “It grafts recommendations onto inadequate institutional structures and fails to address underlying systemic needs.”

When those assorted labs screwed up in their own distinctive ways, each was shut down and reviewed on a narrow, individualized basis. It is definitely great that the White House recognized that a more systematic, centralized approach is necessary but, according to this critique, they have not provided it.

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