Speech at the Herrenhausen Symposium "Dual Use Research on Microbes: Biosafety, Biosecurity, Responsibility", 12.12.2014

This is the biological century, believes David Relman. He is professor for medicine and microbiology at Stanford University, has done research on infectious diseases, and has advised the US government on future biological threats. In his talk, he explains how research in the life sciences today is very different from how it used to be. He describes digitalization as one example because over the course of the coming years, more and more robotic devices will carry out lab work. These machines piece together the steps of an experiment through following a code that was written by a scientist – but not necessarily by someone nearby. The location where the experiment takes place thus becomes independent of the location of the person who came up with the idea. The experiment can also be carried out multiple times and at multiple places. This new way of doing laboratory work in the life sciences is basically a good thing, Relman says. But it comes with new risks. What are we to do in this situation? David Relman pleads for scaled governance and oversight: Self-governance, local and regional governance, and larger oversights. Some experiments, he says, are so risky that they should not be carried out at all. Relman is a Professor in Medicine and Microbiology & Immunology and Co-Director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. He is also Chief of Infectious Diseases at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System in Palo Alto, California. Dr. Relman’s research focus is the human indigenous microbiota and the identification of previously-unrecognized microbial agents of disease. He has advised the U.S. Government on emerging infectious diseases, human-microbe interactions, and future biological threats. He is Chair of the Forum on Microbial Threats at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in the USA and Past President of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

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