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Upcoming Meetings

Please join us at our upcoming monthly Bay Area Synthetic Biology Practices Working Group Meetings. These meetings are informal discussions over dinner and are open to anyone in the community interested in exploring and advancing best practices in synthetic biology.

March 14th 6:30-8:30pm @ Stanford

Speaker: Jaime Yassif, PhD Candidate, UC Berkeley Biophysics Group

Jaime Yassif will join us to share and discuss her work in microbial forensics that applies and extends her technical training and expertise to the examination of policy-relevant issues in biosecurity strategy.

RSVP to Megan Palmer ( by March 12th at noon to receive location details.

Dinner provided by SynBERC


Microbial Forensics for Bioterrorism Prevention: Strengths and Limitations

Since the 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States, members of the biosecurity community have expressed growing alarm at the threat of a biological attack. To counter this threat, increasing emphasis has been placed on microbial forensics, which uses genome sequence comparisons, along with other biological and chemical assays, in an effort to identify the source of a pathogen dispersed in a biological attack. This talk will examine the efficacy of this approach by evaluating the strengths and limitations of current US microbial forensics technical capabilities and the utility of these capabilities for bioterrorism prevention. Microbial forensics has the potential to be a useful tool in some scenarios, and the reliability of this tool can be enhanced with improved research procedures, technological developments, and the establishment of national infrastructure to coordinate investigations. Nevertheless, some fundamental technical limitations will remain. Microbial forensics can contribute to bioterrorism prevention, but the current emphasis on “deterring bioterrorism” does not accurately represent the role it would play. I will propose new language to describe how microbial forensics capabilities can change the cost-benefit analysis of states, groups or individuals who might deliberately or unwittingly aid a terrorist group in obtaining material.

About Jaime

Jaime Yassif is a doctoral candidate in the Biophysics Group at UC Berkeley, where she is conducting her thesis research on the biophysics of transport processes in cells. Prior to her graduate work, Ms. Yassif worked for several years in science and security policy at the Federation of American Scientists and the Nuclear Threat Initiative. Ms. Yassif holds an MA in Science and Security from the War Studies Department at King's College London, and she received her BA in Biology from Swarthmore College. Ms. Yassif is former president of the student-run Science, Technology and Engineering Policy group at UC Berkeley.

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