Biosecurity in the Age of Genome Editing Workshop

May 26, 2017, George Mason University

Sponsored by the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy and the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University with the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and support from George Mason’s Center for Global Studies and Mason’s Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy.


Workshop Agenda

10:00 a.m. - 10:15 a.m. Registration

10:15 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. Welcome and Introduction

10:30 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Genome Editing Technology: Trajectory and Applications

Chair: Megan Palmer, Senior Research Scholar at the Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University


Peter Carr, Senior Scientist, Lincoln Laboratory

Andrew Ellington, Professor of Molecular Biosciences and of Biochemistry, University of Texas at Austin    

Devin Leake, Head of DNA Synthesis, Gingko Bioworks

12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m. Lunch

1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. Potential Misuse of Genome Editing Technologies

Chair: Gregory Koblentz, Associate Professor of Government and Politics, George Mason University


Ryan Ritterson, Senior Analyst, Gryphon Scientific

Kevin Esvelt, Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Kathleen Vogel, Associate Professor of Public Policy, University of Maryland

David Relman, Professor of Medicine and of Microbiology & Immunology, Co-Director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University

2:30 p.m. - 2:45 p.m. Break

2:45 p.m. - 4:15 p.m. Policy Opportunities and Challenges

Chair: Jesse Kirkpatrick, Assistant Director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, George Mason University


Gigi Gronvall, Senior Associate at the Center for Health Security, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

Todd Kuiken, Senior Research Scholar at the Genetic Engineering and Society Center, North Carolina State University

Douglas Friedman, Executive Director, Engineering Biology Research Consortium

4:15 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. Wrap Up


Workshop Panelist Biographies

Peter Carr

Senior Scientist, Lincoln Laboratory 

Peter A. Carr, PhD is a Senior Scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory, where he leads the Synthetic Biology research program. His research interests span genome engineering, rapid prototyping of both hardware and wetware, DNA synthesis and error correction, and biodefense. He is also the Director of Judging for the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition. He received his bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Harvard, and his PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics from Columbia University.

Andrew Ellington

Professor of Molecular Biosciences and of Biochemistry, University of Texas at Austin

Dr. Andrew Ellington received his B.S. in Biochemistry from Michigan State University in 1981, and his Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from Harvard in 1988. As a graduate student he worked with Dr. Steve Benner on the evolutionary optimization of dehydrogenase isozymes. His post-doctoral work was with Dr. Jack Szostak at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he developed methods for the in vitro selection of functional nucleic acids and coined the term 'aptamer.'  Dr. Ellington began his academic career as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Indiana University in 1992, and continued to develop selection methods. He has previously received the Office of Naval Research Young Investigator, Cottrell, and Pew Scholar awards.  In 1998 he moved to the University of Texas at Austin and is now the Fraser Professor of Biochemistry in the Department of Molecular Biosciences.  Dr. Ellington was a member of the Defense Science Studies Group of the Institute for Defense Analysis, and has actively advised numerous government agencies on biodefense and biotechnology issues, including serving on the Biochem2020 panel of the DIA.  Most recently he was named a National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellow, and American Academy of Microbiology Fellow, and an AAAS Fellow.  He has served on the boards of numerous companies and helped found the aptamer companies Archemix and b3 Biosciences. Dr. Ellington's lab works centers on the development of nucleic acid circuitry for point-of-care diagnostics, and on accelerating the evolution of proteins and cells through the introduction of novel chemistries.

Kevin Esvelt

Assistant Professor of Media Arts and Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Kevin Esvelt is director of the Sculpting Evolution group, which invents new ways to study and influence the evolution of ecosystems. By carefully developing and testing these methods with openness and humility, the group seeks to address difficult ecological problems for the benefit of humanity and the natural world.

Prior to joining the MIT Media Lab, Esvelt wove many different areas of science into novel approaches to ecological engineering. He invented phage-assisted continuous evolution (PACE), a synthetic microbial ecosystem for rapidly evolving biomolecules, in the laboratory of David R. Liu at Harvard University. At the Wyss Institute, he worked with George Church to develop the CRISPR system for genome engineering and regulation, and he began exploring the use of bacteriophages and conjugation to engineer microbial ecosystems.

Esvelt is credited as the first to describe how CRISPR gene drives could be used to alter the traits of wild populations in an evolutionarily stable manner. And recently, he and his Sculpting Evolution group devised a new form of technology, called ‘daisy drives’, which would let communities aiming to prevent disease alter wild organisms in local ecosystems.

By emphasizing universal safeguards and early transparency, he has worked to ensure that community discussions always precede and guide the development of technologies that will impact the shared environment.

Douglas Friedman

Executive Director, Engineering Biology Research Consortium 

Douglas Friedman is Executive Director of the Engineering Biology Research Consortium (EBRC), an organization bringing together an inclusive community committed to advancing synthetic biology to address national and global needs. His primary technical interests lie in the fields of synthetic biology, industrial biotechnology, and the interface of the biological and chemical sciences to national defense and homeland security.  Doug's policy interests include governance of biotechnology, safeguarding the bioeconomy, and building diverse, robust community partnerships. Prior to his role at EBRC, Doug was senior program officer with the Board on Chemical Sciences and Technology at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. He served as study director or co-study director on 7 major studies and supported numerous workshops and other activities. His primary portfolio was at the interface of chemistry and biology and he has served as a subject matter expert on emerging biotechnologies. Prior to joining the Academies, Doug performed research in physical organic chemistry and chemical biology at Northwestern University, the University of California, Los Angeles, the University of California, Berkeley, and Solulink Biosciences. He earned his Ph.D. in Chemistry from Northwestern University and his B.S. in Chemical Biology from the University of California, Berkeley.

Gigi Gronvall

Senior Associate at the Center for Health Security, Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

Dr. Gronvall is a Senior Associate at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and Visiting Faculty at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She is an immunologist by training.

Dr. Gronvall’s work at the Center addresses the role of scientists in health security—how they can contribute to an effective technical response against a biological weapon or a natural epidemic. She is particularly interested in developing policies that will boost the safety and security of biological science activities while allowing beneficial research to flourish.

Dr. Gronvall is the author of the book Synthetic Biology: Safety, Security, and Promise, published in fall 2016 (Health Security Press). While the synthetic biology discipline is poised to revolutionize important sectors for national security, there are technical and social risks. Dr. Gronvall describes what can be done to minimize risks and maximize the benefits of synthetic biology, focusing on biosecurity, biosafety, ethics, and US national competitiveness. Dr. Gronvall is also the author of the book Preparing for Bioterrorism: The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Leadership in Biosecurity. By describing the major grants that represented Sloan’s investments in civilian preparedness, public health law, law enforcement, air filtering in buildings, influenza preparedness, and business preparedness, Dr. Gronvall constructed, for a nontechnical audience, a chronicle of early gains in US efforts to confront the threat of bioterrorism.

Dr. Gronvall is a member of the Threat Reduction Advisory Committee (TRAC), which provides the Secretary of Defense with independent advice and recommendations on reducing the risk to the United States, its military forces, and its allies and partners posed by nuclear, biological, chemical, and conventional threats. In 2014-15, she led a preparatory group that examined the US government response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa as a case study for DoD’s strategic role in health security and that made recommendations for future DoD actions in response to disease outbreaks.

She served as the Science Advisor for the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism from April 2009 until the Commission ended in February 2010. She has testified before Congress about the safety and security of high-containment biological laboratories in the United States and served on several task forces related to laboratory and pathogen security, most recently the National Institutes of Health Blue Ribbon Panel to Review the 2014 Variola Virus Incident on the NIH Campus (2016) and the Committee for Comprehensive Review of DoD Laboratory Procedures, Processes, and Protocols Associated with Inactivating Bacillus anthracis Spores, formed in response to the Dugway anthrax shipments (2015). Dr. Gronvall has investigated and presented policy recommendations on the governance of science to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) in Geneva, Switzerland.

Dr. Gronvall is an alumnus of the European Union Visitors Program, a competitive program designed to increase mutual understanding between professionals and future leaders from non-EU countries and their EU counterparts, and the Council on Foreign Relations Term Member Program.

Dr. Gronvall is an Associate Editor of the journal Health Security (formerly Biosecurity and Bioterrorism). She is a founding member of the Center, and, prior to joining the faculty, she worked at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civilian Biodefense Strategies. She was a National Research Council Postdoctoral Associate at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) in Fort Detrick, Maryland.

Dr. Gronvall received a BS in biology from Indiana University, Bloomington. She subsequently worked as a protein chemist at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and received a PhD from Johns Hopkins University for work on T-cell receptor/MHC I interactions.

Jesse Kirkpatrick

Assistant Director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, George Mason University

Jesse Kirkpatrick is Assistant Director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at George Mason University, an affiliate Assistant Research Professor in Mason's graduate neuroethics concentration, and a Politico-Military Analyst for Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Lab. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, where he was awarded a Hoobler Fellowship for his work on postconflict justice and public policy. Jesse specializes in political and moral philosophy, with an emphasis on the just war tradition, emerging technologies, human rights, and security studies. Prior to joining the Institute, Jesse was an Assistant Professor at Radford University and a Research Fellow at the US Naval Academy.

Jesse is currently the Principal Investigator for two sponsored projects. Jesse and Dr. Gregory Koblentz, director of GMU's biodefense graduate program, are working with leading researchers from Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation on a 20 month project: CRISPR and Biosecurity: Assessing Risks, Benefits, and Governance Options of New Genome Editing Tools. For a second year in a row, the National Endowment for the Humanities is supporting the Coming Home project, which engages veterans in dialogues on the moral, psychological, and spiritual impacts of war. Jesse co-directs the project in partnership with Dr. Edward Barrett of the US Naval Academy.

Greg Koblentz

Associate Professor of Government and Politics, George Mason University

Gregory D. Koblentz is an Associate Professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government and Director of the Biodefense Graduate Program at George Mason University. He is also an Associate Faculty at the Center for Global Studies at George Mason and a member of the Scientist Working Group on Chemical and Biological Weapons at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, DC. During 2012-2013, he was a Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations where he conducted research on nuclear proliferation.

Prior to arriving at George Mason, Dr. Koblentz was a visiting assistant professor in the School of Foreign Service and Department of Government at Georgetown University. He has also worked for the Executive Session on Domestic Preparedness at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Dr. Koblentz is the author of Strategic Stability in the Second Nuclear Age (Council on Foreign Relations, 2014) and Living Weapons: Biological Warfare and International Security (Cornell University Press, 2009) and co-author of Tracking Nuclear Proliferation: A Guide in Maps and Charts (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1998).  His research and teaching focus on international security and weapons of mass destruction. He received a PhD in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a MPP from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Todd Kuiken

Senior Research Scholar at the Genetic Engineering and Society Center, North Carolina State University

Dr. Todd Kuiken is a Senior Research Scholar with the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at NC State University where he explores the scientific and technological frontier, stimulating discovery and bringing new tools to bear on public policy challenges that emerge as science advances. He has numerous projects evaluating and designing new research and governance strategies to proactively address the biosafety, biosecurity and environmental opportunities/risks associated with emerging genetic technologies. He previously was the principal investigator on the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Synthetic Biology Project.

In September 2016 he received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to enable the fast-growing ecosystem of “DIY” health innovators to develop a culture of responsibility that reflects its pluralistic and open-source ethos. In addition, he is collaborating on a project to ensure safety and security within the rapidly expanding community of amateur biologists and the growing network of community laboratories and maker spaces. The initiative is evaluating the current capabilities of the community and developing programs around the potential biosafety and biosecurity threats associated with such a diffuse community.

Dr. Kuiken is a member of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity Ad-Hoc Technical Expert Group on Synthetic Biology.  In addition, he is working with the United Nations Treaty for Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture to assess how changes in science and technology, mainly de-materialization and digitization of data, will affect the structure, function and viability of the Treaty. He is also a member of the human practices committee of the International Genetically Engineered Machines competition and a founding member of its biosafety/biosecurity committee. Dr. Kuiken has provided expert testimony in front of the U.S. National Security Agency Advisory Board, the U.S. National Academies of Science, the United Nations Bioweapons Convention, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, has been featured on NPR’s Science Friday, and is a regular speaker on public policy issues related to nanotechnology and synthetic biology.

Devin Leake

Head of DNA Synthesis, Gingko Bioworks

Devin is currently Head of DNA Synthesis at Ginkgo Bioworks, a biotech company designing custom microbes for researchers across multiple markets and developing new organisms that replace technology with biology. At Ginkgo (and Gen9 subsequent to the acquisition), Devin lead the team that developed Gen9’s next generation DNA synthesis platform. Prior to Gen9, he spent eleven years with Thermo Fisher Scientific, developing tools for genomic research including next-generation sequencing and gene editing using enzyme engineering and nucleic acid modifications. Devin received his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry from the SUNY Stony Brook for his work on molecular regulation of optic nerve regeneration.

Megan Palmer

Senior Research Scholar at the Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University

Dr. Megan J. Palmer is a Senior Research Scholar and William J. Perry Fellow in International Security at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University. She leads a research program focused on risk governance in biotechnology and other emerging technologies. Dr. Palmer is also an investigator of the multi-university Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (Synberc), where for the last 5 years she served as Deputy Director of its policy-related research program, and led projects in safety and security, property rights, and community organization and governance. She was previously a research scientist at the California Center for Quantitative Bioscience at UC Berkeley, and an affiliate of Lawrence Berkeley National Labs.

Dr. Palmer has created and led many programs aimed at developing and promoting best practices and policies for the responsible development of biotechnology. She founded and serves as Executive Director of the Synthetic Biology Leadership Excellence Accelerator Program (LEAP), an international fellowship program in responsible biotechnology leadership. She also leads programs in safety and responsible innovation for the international Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition. Dr. Palmer advises a diversity of organizations on their approach to policy issues in biotechnology, including serving on the board of the synthetic biology program of the Joint Genomics Institute (JGI).

Dr. Palmer holds a Ph.D. in Biological Engineering from MIT, and was a postdoctoral scholar in the Bioengineering Department at Stanford University, when she first became a CISAC affiliate. She received a B.Sc.E. in Engineering Chemistry from Queen’s University, Canada.

David Relman

Professor of Medicine and of Microbiology & Immunology, Co-Director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation, Stanford University

David A. Relman, M.D., is the Thomas C. and Joan M. Merigan Professor in the Departments of Medicine, and of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford University, and Chief of Infectious Diseases at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System in Palo Alto, California. He is also Co-Director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation and Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University.

Relman was an early pioneer in the application of molecular methods for studying the human indigenous microbiota. Most recently, his work has focused on human microbial community assembly, and community stability and resilience in the face of disturbance. Previous work included the development of molecular methods for identifying novel microbial pathogens, and the subsequent identification of several historically important microbial disease agents, as well as molecular mechanisms of bacterial pathogenesis. One of his papers was selected as “one of the 50 most important publications of the past century” by the American Society for Microbiology.

Dr. Relman received an S.B. (Biology) from MIT, M.D. from Harvard Medical School, and joined the faculty at Stanford in 1994. He is Chair of the Forum on Microbial Threats at the National Academy of Medicine, and a member of the Committee on Science, Technology & Law and of the Intelligence Community Studies Board, both at the National Academies of Science, and advises several US Government agencies on current and future microbial threats. He served as vice-chair of the NAS Committee that reviewed the science performed as part of the FBI investigation of the 2001 Anthrax Letters, as a member of the National Science Advisory Board on Biosecurity (2005-2014), and as President of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (2012-2013). He received an NIH Pioneer Award in 2006, an NIH Transformative Research Award in 2011, and was elected a member of the National Academy of Medicine in 2011.

Ryan Ritterson

Senior Analyst, Gryphon Scientific

Dr. Ryan Ritterson is a biophysicist whose work at Gryphon Scientific has emphasized the assessment of biological threats and risks due to laboratory accidents or deliberate acts of terrorism. With a focus on synthetic biology, Dr. Ritterson received his Ph.D. in biophysics from the University of California, San Francisco and has since served as a Synbio LEAP fellow and on multiple synthetic biology working groups. He also holds a B.S. in Computational Engineering Science from U.C. Berkeley, which has given him deep knowledge of modeling and data analytics. Since joining Gryphon Scientific in 2015, Dr. Ritterson has led a number of important risk assessments. Notably, this included leading a biosafety risk assessment for Gryphon’s landmark study of the risks and benefits of modified influenza and coronaviruses.  His analysis contained a first-of-its-kind assessment of human error in biological laboratories and significantly influenced the White House’s final policy recommending additional oversight of so-called Gain of Function research that is intended to enhance the transmission or virulence of pathogens of pandemic potential. He has also led efforts to assess risks of emerging biotechnologies and helped to create a framework for assessing both the novel risks these technologies present and the potential ways their application could improve our biosecurity defenses. Through his project work and engagement with the scientific community, Dr. Ritterson has become known for his creative analysis and expert knowledge on topics in biosecurity, biosafety, and synthetic biology.

Kathleen Vogel

Associate Professor of Public Policy, University of Maryland

Kathleen Vogel first became interested in biological weapons during her graduate work in the sciences at Princeton University, where she developed a side interest in science policy issues. After receiving her PhD in biological chemistry, she transitioned from a scientific career to one in science policy. For the next five years, Vogel conducted security policy research at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies within the Monterey Institute of International Studies, the Peace Studies Program at Cornell University, the Cooperative Monitoring Center at Sandia National Laboratories, the Institute for Public Policy at the University of New Mexico, and the Office of Proliferation Threat Reduction in U.S. Department of State. 

Although these policy-oriented positions were fruitful learning experiences, Vogel was not satisfied with the existing tools and policy frameworks for understanding bioweapons threats and how to design appropriate policy responses. Her own bioweapons-related research indicated a much more complex set of factors that seemed to shape proliferation threats compared to existing policy discourse. This dissatisfaction has led to the search for and discovery of alternative theoretical tools that reshape the discourse centered around biological weapons, with the hopes of creating a new and generative intellectual conversation between academia and policy.

Vogel has a BA in Chemistry, Biology and Spanish from Drury College, and holds an MA and PhD in Chemistry from Princeton University.