Guest highlights on bioterrorism

(Photo: Sequoia Sinclair)
Dr. Margaret Kosal, an associate professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology, spoke with students and faculty at Augusta University to highlight the topic of bioterrorism threats. The title of the presentation is “WMD Proliferation and Emerging Technology: Challenges to Strategic Stability and New Terrorism Threats.” (Photo: Sequoia Sinclair)

By Sequoia Sinclair | Staff Writer

Dr. Margaret Kosal, an associate professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology, presented the topic of bioterrorism threats on Monday, Oct. 24, at Augusta University.

At 6 o’clock that evening, viewers gathered in room N-126 of Allgood Hall to listen to Dr. Kosal’s presentation titled “WMD Proliferation and Emerging Technology: Challenges to Strategic Stability and New Terrorism Threats.”

Kosal stated the focus points for the presentation to the diverse audience.

“Something very important to me is, what does my work mean in the broader context?” she asked. “Whether it is potentially implementable and executable for national or international level security.”

(Photo: Sequoia Sinclair)
Dr. Margaret Kosal is a guest speaker at AU, who gave a presentation on bioterrorism. (Photo: Sequoia Sinclair)

At the beginning of the presentation, Kosal proposed the research questions she took interest in.

“The research question that I’m grappling with ultimately is understanding and explaining the role of technology in politics and war and to explain the role politics and war have on technology,” she said. “I do not want to be technologically deterministic. Technology isn’t necessarily the only drive, they go back and forth.”

To put things into perspective for viewers about what bioterrorism may be, Kosal spoke about H5N1 or a flu virus that was made more transmissible. Essentially, for more people to be infected human to human. Others that she showcased were synthetic polios and small pox.

Because bioterrorism is fairly new to the game of war, creating guidelines and policy are a bit difficult as she explained.

“It is not like the great arms race where a treaty is made to reduce the production of nuclear arms,” she said. “A pressing concern is a concept referred to as the ‘dual use conundrum.”

Dr. Kosal elaborated on the concept more.

“Does [the] technology have a use for military versus civilian?” she asked. “In biosecurity, the focus is on: what’s the intent? If one is using these technologies to develop better counter measures, develop better protective measures that is acceptable as opposed to using technology to intentionally harm people, animals, agriculture, etc.”

When thinking about the advancement of bioterrorism, it is important to share that one cannot directly correlate the dynamics of biotechnology with nuclear weapons. Kosal assured that idea for viewers.

“If one looks at the biological weapons of the twentieth century, there are none that compete with nuclear ones,” she said.

Although bio weaponry is not competing with nuclear ones right now, it is still important to examine the existential threat or the potential threat of such things. She discussed a real life example of what America faces today when it comes to bioterrorism.

Take for instance, CRISPR CAS9 one of other gene editing techniques where the germ lives. Dr. Kosal explored both sides of such a procedure. She explored some positive outcomes when examining the technique. On the other hand, she explained an existential threat that CRISPR CS-9 may possess.

According to Darcia Schweitzer, a science writer at Pomega, there are specific pros and cons for such advances in biotechnology such as CRISPR CAS9 that correlate to what Dr. Kosal spoke of.

“CRISPR/Cas9 can be used as a therapeutic to correct disease-causing mutations and succeed as a tool for gene therapy.” Schweitzer stated on the other hand. “CRISPR/Cas9 intensifies a host of ethical questions that already exist surrounding genetic modification. Caution is necessary to avoid unforeseen, long-term consequences that are irreversible.”

In today’s reality, Kosal talked about what a promenade threat is when thinking of bioterrorism.

“The most numerous bioterrorism incidents are very low end,” she said. “They actually are hoaxes and threats. Particularly with the anthrax mailings in 2001 we saw a whole number of hoaxes and threats. Terror is to have a psychological impact on people. By and large, hoaxes and threats are number one here in the U.S. Motivations and intent is important to study when dealing with bioterrorist threats.”

Moreover, Kosal spoke about the purpose of giving presentations on the subject of bioterrorism.

“I want to build bridges between Augusta Tech and AU,” she said. “It is important to show students that what they are learning has connections to significant real world problems. I also have a duty to communicate to the public. I am very passionate about these things. I encourage people to read and to be speculative. You don’t have to be an expert in bioterrorism to follow along with what is going on.”

Throughout her presentation, Dr. Kosal stressed the importance of exploring the bioterrorism threat using multiple disciplines such as chemist and engineers as well as the social sciences. She encouraged viewers to read and discern an understanding and be involved about the topic.

For students in the future degrees like electrical engineers, international affairs majors, biology majors, nautical engineer majors, computer scientists, and but not limited to chemists.

“Like they are doing now, I would look at it in the future as being less single person oriented and more so a team of people with different expertise working toward a common goal,” she said. “From a student’s perspective, as much as they don’t like it (and) as much as I didn’t like it, it means group projects!”

Contact Sequoia Sinclair at sesinclair@augusta.edu.

Published on November 7, 2016 in Vol. 59, Issue 2 of The Bell Ringer newspaper.

 

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