Callum Cooper (PhD 2007-2011) recipient of the Microbiology Communication Prize.
12 January 2011
Callum Cooper, (WSP PhD student 2007-2011), was presented with the Society for General Microbiology's Microbiology Communication Prize for his contribution to a special joint workshop 'Microbiology, genomics and beyond: regulating dual use technologies in the 21st Century' held on 17th September 2010.
Callum's lecture was entitled 'DIY microbiology in your garden shed', and the certificate was presented at the meeting by Professor Colin Harwood from University of Newcastle.
The workshop to address the issue of duel use technology, that is technology with the potential to be used for beneficial or detrimental purposes, organised by the ESRC funded Centre for the Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics (Cesagen) at Cardiff university and Prof Les Baillie of the Welsh School of Pharmacy, Cardiff University was held at the Wellcome Trust Conference Centre in London.
The one day workshop, which was supported by sponsorship from the Wellcome Trust and the Societies for Applied and General Microbiology, sort to address the thorny issue of duel use technology in the context of the massive expansion in life science research and capability. Indeed a major challenge faced by regulators is the need to develop a proportionate regulatory framework which balances the need to support creativity and innovation with legitimate concerns over the potential misuse, accidental or intentional, of the technology. Thus a primary aim of the workshop was to begin a dialogue between microbiologists working at the bench and those charged with formulating the regulations which ultimate affect their freedom to operate.
The meeting attracted an audience of over fifty policy makers, life and social scientists who were exposed to a series of presentations designed to stimulate conversation and debate. The first session, chaired by Colin Harwood of Newcastle University, addressed dual use issues centred around conventional microbiology and included a presentation by Graham Pearson of Bradford University and a former director of the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment at Porton Down who gave an overview of the historical perspective in the context of the Biological and Toxin Weapons convention. He was followed by Les Baillie who described the events of the 2001 Washington Anthrax attacks and the subsequent forensic investigation of which he had first hand experience. This events has been described as the ultimate example of an inside job, a government science who perverted his research to carry out a bioterrorist attack. The session was closed by Darrell Galloway, former Director of the Chemical and Biological Technologies Directorate of the US Defence Threat Reduction Agency with a presentation which highlighted the cutting edge research emerging from efforts focusing on combating the threat of bioterrorism.
The second session looked at the challenges caused by the increased availability of complex biological technologies and their use in non-traditional settings, so-called ‘garage genomics’. Indeed a fascinating presentation by Jason Bobe, Director for the Personal Genome Project described the establishment of DIYBiology a community of over 2000 people who carrying out their own research and are in the process of setting up community lab spaces in major cities across Europe and the US. Indeed the ease with which one can establish a low cost research capability was described by Callum Cooper, a microbiology graduate student from Cardiff University, who demonstrated the feasibility of establishing a basic microbiology lab in a garden shed. While the desire to establish your own research laboratory is in the best traditions of the Victorian gentleman scientist, it raises question about how best to protect the researchers and the public at large.
The final session focused on regulation and the processes that could be adopted to prevent the misuse of science. Chaired by Malcolm Dando of Bradford University the session featured a presentation from Micheal Imperiale from Michigan Medical School who as a member of the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity was well place to comment on the US experience in the area. He highlighted the importance of engaging life scientists in the issues surrounding duel use research and stressed the need to raise awareness about the subject. These key points were echoed by Alexander Kelle from the University of Bath in a presentation which suggested that this topic was not even on the radar of the majority of UK researchers.