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Biotechnology and Health Security

1st Term
Environmental Health and Engineering
Academic Year
2024 - 2025
Instruction Method
Asynchronous Online
Auditors Allowed
Yes, with instructor consent
Available to Undergraduate
Grading Restriction
Letter Grade or Pass/Fail
Course Instructor(s)
Contact Name
Frequency Schedule
Every Year
The biological sciences and biotechnologies are changing medicine, agriculture, and manufacturing in powerful ways. Gene editing techniques like CRISPR, DNA synthesis technologies, and increased computing power are accelerating these timelines. In the coming years, biotechnology advances are likely to be used-- and misused—affecting national and international security. What kinds of beneficial public health options will be available due to advances in biotechnology? What are the possibilities for limiting misuse, accidents, or biological weapons? What are the implications for public health preparedness and response? What policy and investment steps need to be taken, now?
Prepares students to examine the complex issues surrounding the security of advances in the biological sciences, and their impact on public health. Acquaints students with medical and public health options that may be possible as a result of biotechnology advances—for example, to rid areas of malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Will also acquaint students with the difficult history of past bioweapons programs in the 20th century, and the continuing effect that history has on current biodefense and health security efforts. Introduces the concept of the dual-use dilemma—that is, how biotechnologies may have applications for good and harm—and explores how current biotechnology advances may be applied towards security aims, or could be misused. Topical issues in science and security policy, including genetically modified organism (GMO) controversies, will be explored, researched, and debated. Encourages application of critical thinking skills through class discussions and written assignments.
Learning Objectives
Upon successfully completing this course, students will be able to:
  1. Identify biotechnological developments and trends that will help improve prevention and response efforts for biological threats
  2. List at least 3 current biotechnology efforts underway that will affect public health
  3. Compare and contrast biosafety and biosecurity
  4. Explain the dual-use dilemma in the biosciences and biotechnology
  5. Critique several US and international policy mechanisms for reducing biosecurity vulnerabilities
  6. Identify biases in news articles describing biosecurity vulnerabilities and potential responses
  7. Describe in layman’s terms several major drivers of the dual-use dilemma in the biosciences, including synthetic biology, gene editing technologies, and DNA synthesis
  8. Link possible policy options to current biosecurity threats, and craft memos to describe them
Methods of Assessment
This course is evaluated as follows:
  • 20% Participation
  • 20% Quizzes
  • 60% Short written assignments