Government Panel Proposes New Rules for Handling Dangerous Pathogens

The White House has released a much-awaited report on ways to strengthen biosecurity in the United States. Produced by an intragovernmental working group that was set up by President George W. Bush days before his departure from office, the report calls for changes to the rules that govern the handling, storage, and management of the 82 dangerous pathogens and toxins that make up the government's select agent list.

Instead of applying the same security standards to all of the agents, which researchers have complained about for years, the report recommends a stratified system that would toughen security for the most hazardous agents and ease rules for more benign ones. The idea is spelled out in a bill that was introduced in the U.S. Senate last fall; the new report could bolster the bill's chances of being passed by Congress.

The working group also wants the government to tighten the screening and monitoring of researchers who work with dangerous pathogens. And it calls for a set of minimum standards for physical security at labs where these pathogens are stored and handled.