The military and the life sciences have been intertwined
throughout history. Biology has often been a source of offensive
weapons, ranging from the hurling of plague victims over the
walls of Kaffa (which probably started the 14th-century Black
Death) to the anthrax attacks of fall 2001.
The military-biology relationship also has a humane side.
Over the years, medical advances have saved countless soldiers
and contributed to the overall well being of society. From the
smallpox inoculation of Continental Army recruits in 1777—
nearly 20 years before Edward Jenner’s smallpox vaccination—to
the development of modern vaccines, military physicians have a
lengthy and impressive record of achievements.
Biology has a new military role in the 21st century. Using the
tools of biotechnology, the emphasis is now on increasing
warfighting capabilities by improving matériel and enhancing
warrior performance. Potential new tools range from small electronic
devices based on bacterial proteins to foods that contain
vaccines. The possibilities range from warriors functioning without
difficulty in extreme environments to unmanned aerial vehicles
flying in autonomous swarms.
For the military to benefit fully from the advances of 21stcentury
biology, a new organization is needed within the Department
of Defense (DOD) that addresses the ethical, legal, and regulatory
implications of biotechnology. This entity also must
ensure that DOD biotechnology spending is increased and that
the majority of the funds are directed to warfighting issues rather
than the longstanding biological concerns of medical and defensive
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