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Dual use potential of life sciences research

Code of conduct for risk assessment and risk mitigation

Research and development in the life sciences have crucially contributed to today’s progress and improvement of living conditions. At the same time, findings in the life sciences often run the risk of being misused to the detriment of society and environment. This "double applicability" of scientific findings is described as the "dual use dilemma".

The potential for misuse of scientific findings is especially obvious for research on pathogenic microorganisms and toxins: on the one hand, research results regarding transmissibility, pathogenesis and genomics of pathogenic biological agents are indispensable to prevent the agents’ spread and proliferation and to enable or improve the treatment of infection and exposure to toxins. On the other hand, these results can also potentially be misused to cause harm to humans, animals or plants.

It is therefore necessary for institutions dealing with pathogens and toxins – such as the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) – to establish a code of conduct which

  • on the one hand, preserves freedom of research that benefits society and
  • on the other hand, prevents the distribution of information and research results that could harm society and the environment.

The code of conduct became effective on 8 May 2012 and was updated on 25 March 2013 (English version published on 14 June 2013).

Date: 24.06.2013