80 Questions for UK Biological Security

Paper by Luke Kemp, David C.Aldridge, Olaf Booy, Hilary Bower, Des Browne, Mark Burgmann, Austin Burt, Andrew A. Cunningham, Malcolm Dando, Jaimie T. A. Dick, Christopher Dye, Sam Weiss Evans, Belinda Gallardo, H. Charles J. Godfray, Ian Goodfellow, Simon Gubbins, Lauren Holt, Kate E. Jones, Hazem Kandil, Phillip Martin, Mark McCaughan, Caitríona McLeish, Thomas Meany, Kathryn Millett, Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh, Nicola J. Patron, Catherine Rhodes, Helen E. Roy, Gorm Shackelford, Derek Smith, Nicola Spence, Helene Steiner, Lalitha Sundaram, Silja Voeneky, John R. Walker, Harry Watkins, Simon Whitby, James Wood, William Sutherland
Published on 11 January 2021


Multiple national and international trends and drivers are radically changing what biological security means for the United Kingdom (UK). New technologies present novel opportunities and challenges, and globalisation has created new pathways and increased the speed, volume and routes by which organisms can spread. The UK Biological Security Strategy (2018) acknowledges the importance of research on biological security in the UK. Given the breadth of potential research, a targeted agenda identifying the questions most critical to effective and coordinated progress in different disciplines of biological security is required. We used expert elicitation to generate 80 policy-relevant research questions considered by participants to have the greatest impact on UK biological security. Drawing on a collaboratively-developed set of 450 questions, proposed by 41 experts from academia, industry and the UK government (consulting 168 additional experts) we subdivided the final 80 questions into six categories: bioengineering; communication and behaviour; disease threats (including pandemics); governance and policy; invasive alien species; and securing biological materials and securing against misuse. Initially, the questions were ranked through a voting process and then reduced and refined to 80 during a one-day workshop with 35 participants from a variety of disciplines. Consistently emerging themes included: the nature of current and potential biological security threats, the efficacy of existing management actions, and the most appropriate future options. The resulting questions offer a research agenda for biological security in the UK that can assist the targeting of research resources and inform the implementation of the UK Biological Security Strategy. These questions include research that could aid with the mitigation of Covid-19, and preparation for the next pandemic. We hope that our structured and rigorous approach to creating a biological security research agenda will be replicated in other countries and regions. The world, not just the UK, is in need of a thoughtful approach to directing biological security research to tackle the emerging issues.

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