Open sharing of biotechnology research: transparency versus security

Open sharing of biotechnology research: transparency versus security

Researchers outline how to balance open sharing of biotechnology research with transparency and security. Credit: Sangharsh Lohakare, Unsplash (CC0,

As biotechnology advances, the risk of accidental or deliberate misuse of biological research such as viral engineering is increasing. At the same time, “open science” practices such as public sharing of data and research protocols are spreading. An article published on April 14 in the open access journal PLOS biology by James Smith and Jonas Sandbrink of the University of Oxford, UK, examines how open science practices interface and the risks of misuse and proposes solutions to identified problems.

The authors address a fundamentally important question that emerged with the advent of nuclear physics: how the scientific community should react when two values ​​- safety and transparency – are in conflict. They argue that in the context of viral engineering, open code, data and materials can increase the risk of release of enhanced pathogens. Available machine learning models could reduce the amount of time required in the laboratory and simplify pathogen engineering.

To mitigate this catastrophic misuse, mechanisms need to be explored to ensure responsible access to relevant hazardous research materials. In particular, to prevent misuse of calculation tools, it may be necessary to control access to software and data.

Preprints, which have become widely used during the pandemic, make it difficult to prevent the spread of risky information at the publishing stage. In response, the authors argue that supervision must take place earlier in the research life cycle. Finally, Smith and Sandbrink stress that pre-registration of research, a practice promoted by the open scientific community to increase the quality of research, may offer the opportunity to review and mitigate research risks.

“Faced with increasingly accessible methods for creating possible pandemic pathogens, the scientific community must take steps to mitigate catastrophic misuse,” say Smith and Sandbrink. “Risk mitigation measures must be merged into developed practices to ensure open, high-quality and reproducible scientific research. To make progress on this important issue, open science and biosecurity experts must work together to develop mechanisms to ensure responsible research with the maximum benefit for society “.

The authors propose many of these mechanisms and hope that research will stimulate innovation in this critically important but critically neglected area. They demonstrate that science cannot just be open or closed – there are intermediate states that need to be explored and difficult compromises may be needed that touch upon core scientific values. “In contrast to the strong narrative towards open science that has emerged in recent years, maximizing the social benefits of scientific work can sometimes mean preventing rather than encouraging its spread,” they conclude.

A call for community self-government on sharing information on the digital sequence

More information:
Biosecurity in the age of open science, PLoS biology (2022). DOI: 10.1371 / journal.pbio.3001600

Provided by the Public Science Library

Quote: Open Sharing of Biotechnology Research: Transparency versus Security (2022, April 14) Retrieved May 8, 2022 from

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