Tessa Alexanian and Janvi Ahuja on Synthethic Biology and GCBRs
September 21, 2022
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Tessa Alexanian is the Safety & Security Program Officer at the iGEM Foundation. Tessa is a fellow at the Emerging Leaders in Biosecurity Initiative, was previously a fellow at the Foresight Institute, and co-founded the East Bay Biosecurity Group. You can read more about what she's up to on her (excellent!) website.
Janvi Ahuja is a PhD student in computational biology at the University of Oxford, where she is affiliated with the Future of Humanity Institute and works with MIT's Nucleic Acid Observatory. Janvi is also a fellow at the Emerging Leaders in Biosecurity Initiative, and was previously an intern at the UN's Biological Weapons Convention ISU. Listeners may remember Janvi from co-hosting our episode with Ajay Karpur.
- How synthetic biology began and why it is an exploding field
- The iGEM competition and how to get involved in the community
- Challenges and trade-offs in creating a culture of responsibility in synthetic biology
- Emerging risks in synthetic biology and what this means for global catastrophic risks
- Technical projects in biosecurity and career advice for how to get involved
- Elliot Hershberg's The Century of Biology newsletter
- Christian Enemark's Biosecurity Dilemmas: Dreaded Diseases, Ethical Responses, and the Health of Nations
- Richard Danzig et al.'s Aum Shinrikyo: Insights Into How Terrorists Develop Biological and Chemical Weapons
- The Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense's The Apollo Program for Biodefense – Winning the Race Against Biological Threats
- The Council on Strategic Risks' Toward a Global Pathogen Early Warning System
- Ken Alibek's Biohazard: The Chilling True Story of the Largest Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World--Told from the Inside by the Man Who Ran It
- History: Biological circuit, DNA Synthesis, CRISPR, Gene Drive (see also our episode with Kevin Esvelt)
- The "founding" paper: A synthetic oscillatory network of transcriptional regulators
- Present: The second decade of synthetic biology: 2010–2020
- Future: Synthetic biology 2020–2030: six commercially-available products that are changing our world
- The iGEM Foundation
- Staying up-to-date
- Tessa's talk: How do we build a culture of responsible disclosure?
- Open Science: Retraction Watch; The preregistration revolution
- Case-studies in successful biosafety
- Examples of Successful Selective Disclosure in the Life Sciences (including botulinum toxin)
- Discovery of Recombinant DNA and the subsequent Asilomar Conference
- Malicious uses and accidents
- Twenty-one incomplete inactivations of pathogens in the US (2003–2015)
- Vials labeled ‘Smallpox’ found in Pennsylvania lab freezer (2021)
- Tokyo subway Sarin attack (1995) – see also CNAS' report
- Biosecurity topics in existential risk
- CERI and Janvi's GCBR Reading List – consider applying to the fellowship!
- Emerging technologies and dual-use concerns: a horizon scan for global public health
- The Swiss Cheese Model for risk management
- Breaking down "Prevention" into Development, Access, and Deterrence
- A deterrence by denial strategy for addressing biological weapons
- General topics in existential risk
- The Unilateralist’s Curse and the Case for a Principle of Conformity (see also Radio Bostrom's audio recordings)
- How does the offense-defense balance scale?
- Information Hazards: A Typology of Potential Harms from Knowledge (see also this reading list)
- Are you really in a race? The Cautionary Tales of Szilárd and Ellsberg
- Projects that Tessa and Janvi would be excited to see
- Tessa's List of Lists of Concrete Biosecurity Project Ideas
- Managing "choke points" in synthetic biology: DNA sequencing and synthesis capacity; hardware and algorithms to control hypothesis-free experiments (AlphaFold; see also Shevlane's work on structured access)
- Early-warning-systems: Detection in HVAC systems; statical modelling for airport sampling (NAO; see also our episode with Ajay Karpur)
- Creating new rules for emergency authorisations and human challenge trials during pandemics (1DaySooner)
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