Here’s a week-by-week breakdown of what you’ll learn:
Global Catastrophic Biological Risks Course
The Biosecurity Fundamentals course is a bite-sized introduction to the field of biosecurity. It consists of 6 weeks of discussion based learning, and prepares participants for independent technical or policy biosecurity research. After completing the program, participants gain access to Wisconsin Biosecurity Initiative’s mentored research program, where you’ll have the opportunity to publish novel research with the help of an expert mentor.
The program lasts six weeks and includes weekly 1.5 hour discussions, which require an hour of prep. The total time commitment is 2.5 hours per week.
Week 1: Introduction to Extreme Pandemic Threats
An overview of biorisks, focusing on some of the most catastrophic risks from biology, sometimes referred to as GCBRs (Global Catastrophic Biological Risks).
This week highlights some of the deadliest pandemics from history, as well as historical examples of pathogen laboratory escapes and deliberate misuse. This is placed in the context of the current rate of synthetic biology progress, emphasising the need for vigilance and preparedness for emerging threats.
Week 2: Dual Use Research of Concern
The WHO defines Dual-Use Reaseach of Concern (DURC) as "research that is intended to provide a clear benefit, but which could easily be misapplied to do harm."
This week discusses the concept of DURC, and the debates around what research should be conducted and/or published.
DURC could take the form of:
- Research that is well-intentioned but may create risks as it is being carried out (e.g. work with potential pandemic pathogens, where a lab escape could be very problematic)
- Research that creates risks because someone else might misuse the information/methods if they are published openly.
Week 3: Advances in Biotechnology
During this week, we will delve into the advancements in the field of synthetic biology, and their implications for biosecurity. We will explore the significant progress in biotechnology over the past decade, the tools that make it possible, and the degree to which these developments have become accessible even to undergraduate scientists.
Week 4: Bioweapons and Biodefense
This week covers the deliberate misuse of biology to cause harm in the form of bioweapons. We cover the historical and contemporary aspects of biological warfare, as well as the international efforts to control it.
We focus on the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), including the challenges faced in enforcing the it.
Week 5: Pandemic Prevention and Diagnostics
Explore the prevention strategies for future pandemics, particularly the importance of early detection of biological threats. Delve into the concept of a global pathogen early warning system, discussing its potential to improve disease reporting, data sharing, and swift response.
Consider questions like:
- What are the tradeoffs between different technologies? Which systems are better suited low-resource areas vs well-resourced areas?
- What is the usefulness of detection at various points in the pandemic?
- Are there any systems you think could work well but aren’t mentioned here?
- What risks should we be aware of when collecting this information?
Week 6: Pandemic Response
This week's resources focus on the theme of improving global preparedness and response to potential pandemics and biological threats. Proposals include significant investments in technological advancement, infrastructure enhancement, disease surveillance, and international coordination to rapidly develop and deploy countermeasures during potential health crises.
Who Should Apply?
The seminar is open to all members of the UW-Madison community.
We recommend applying to this program if you:
- Are interested in exploring a career in the field of biosecurity
- Can commit 1 hour a week to prep work and exercises, in addition to the weekly 1.5-hour discussions
- Can attend at least 5 out of the 6 weekly discussion sessions
We are committed to building a diverse group of members. We strongly encourage interested students to apply regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, ability, etc. We also encourage undergraduate, graduate, and professional students, as well as individuals from all intellectual backgrounds and majors to apply.
Note: This program is operated by Wisconsin Biosecurity Initiative, an independent RSO which shares many of the values of Effective Altruism UW-Madison.