Securing Bio-Research

Anthrax-laced letters mailed to members of Congress and others just after Sept. 11, 2001, clearly showed the potential for dangerous biological substances in labs finding their way into a terrorist's toolbox.

Last week, the National Academy of Sciences called for tighter controls on such research in universities. The NAS seeks to reactivate a review system that was put in place in the late 1970s following a call for a moratorium on some genetic-engineering experiments. That system would monitor research in seven areas of biology. Local committees could prevent experiments deemed risky, and a federal committee could even keep researchers from getting government grant dollars. Such an effort would need to strike a balance between academic freedom in science and vigilance in preventing a terrorist threat.

One important NAS recommendation is to create a committee in which security experts and biologists could share information and talk about ways to keep materials safe.

Congress and the Bush administration should seriously consider how best to implement these ideas.

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