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3D printing a biological war

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has published a new report, in which it voices concerns over the potential risks of 3D printing if misused.

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It is feared that advancements in 3D printing could enable the production of biological weapons

The report, titled ‘BIO PLUS X’, discusses concerns over the potential for advancements in 3D printing to contribute towards the creation of biological weapons.

A recent surge in the development of bioprinting, in which cells and tissue are printed, has caused fears over biological warfare. Also known as ‘germ warfare’, the use of biological toxins or infectious agents such as bacteria or viruses have the ability to kill or incapacitate humans, animals, or plants.

Recent advancements in biotechnology has made it faster and cheaper to manipulate the genetic make-up of organisms, from bacteria to humans. The use of 3D printing has also made creating low priced customised equipment and prosthetics possible in the biomedical sector.

The report reads: “While the ability to print fully functional donor organs that can be implemented and sustained in a human body is probably decades away, the production of different kinds of tissue for medical research and testing is more advanced.”

BIO PLUS X lists printing of laboratory equipment, bioprinting, and the printing of delivery systems or their components as the three areas of particular concern.

New developments in these emerging technologies could have an enabling effect in different steps of the development and use of biological weapons

Despite the presence of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC), the report explains that the existing governance mechanisms provide only limited and indirect coverage of the application of 3D printing – also referred to as additive manufacturing.

The report continues: “The main conclusion is that, while new developments in these emerging technologies could have an enabling effect in different steps of the development and use of biological weapons, the existing governance frameworks are ill-equipped to comprehensively address these risks.”

When outlining possible solutions, SIPRI suggests that national governments assess technological mechanism more systematically, increase resources for relevant authorities and strengthen research on detection, prevention, response, and attribution of biological incidents.

The institute also suggests that academic institutions introduce obligatory courses on ethics, law and biosafety in all national science curriculums and that the private sector continuously strengthens its self-governance and compliance standards.

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