St Catharine’s College is establishing a world-class hub that will provide cutting edge, evidence-based information about existing and emerging biological security risks and interventions.

The BioRISC initiative (Biosecurity Research Initiative at St Catharine’s) was officially launched during an event at the Houses of Parliament. Creation of this initiative is particularly timely. Coordinated national strategies on biological security have recently been published and there is growing international dialogue on management of novel biotechnologies such as genome editing, gene drives, and synthetic biology. To download a brochure about the initiative, please click here

For example, Executive Director Catherine Rhodes spoke with the BBC World Service in March 2020 as part of a programme on where the coronavirus came from and why these diseases aren't a one-off. Watch the video. 


BioRISC uses a broad version of the term biosecurity. This extends across its uses in the fields of conservation and environmental protection, protection of human, animal and plant health against naturally occurring biological threats, and accidental releases of / unintended consequences from novel organisms, and more traditional security concerns around deliberate use of biological agents, scientific knowledge and related technologies for harmful purposes. 

The advantages of adopting this broad version are that it will enable identification of commonalities between the different areas, for example in failure modes and key points of intervention, and promote learning across the different areas. There are also benefits to considering biological security in a comprehensive manner, as actions in the different constituent domains can have implications in others – something clearly recognised in the 2018 UK Biological Security Strategy.

The Initiative will use an innovative combination of approaches to build, integrate, and synthesise evidence, across the different domains of biosecurity. This will include fault tree analysis, mapping of intervention options, expert elicitation processes, and extension of the Conservation Evidence platform. Specific components of these activities will bring together leading scientific experts, technology developers and policy makers, to shape the biosecurity research agenda and ensure solutions are grounded in evidence.

Initial Projects

New Methods of Evidence Synthesis

Developing new methods of evidence synthesis accessible through online tools. This will initially be applied to evidence for the management of invasive plants, and will later extend to other aspects of biosecurity.

Collation of Evidence on Controlling Invasive Species

Reviewing the evidence for effectiveness of different means of controlling invasive species, with an initial focus on plant invasives of high significance to the UK.

Development of Fault Trees

A set of fault trees are being developed providing which provide information about critical failure points. These will provide the basis for additional processes such as expert elicitation to weight different pathways, mapping of existing intervention options, and gap analysis. Archetypal fault trees will be developed for the main areas of biosecurity, as well as more detailed examples of a representative range of real-world case studies. Work on the latter has started with examination of a marine invasive, the golden mussel, and highly pathogenic avian influenza.

Gene Drive Fault Trees and Interventions - Workshop

Gene drive technologies and organisms have implications in many areas of biological security – conservation and environmental protection, human, animal and plant life and health, and protection from the deliberate misuse of biology. This workshop will compare potential failure points in management of associated risks with existing interventions, to identify any significant gaps and provide insights into interventions that ought to be prioritised. 
Planned for late 2019 / early 2020.

Biological Engineering Horizon Scan

A refined version of the horizon scan on significant issues in biological engineering conducted by the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk in 2016. This will identify and rank potential developments in science, technology, policy and regulation relevant to novel biological risks and their management over the next 15 years. 

Policy and Governance Taxonomy

Starting at the international level, a taxonomy of biosecurity governance options will be produced. This will provide an initial list of interventions and feed into fault tree work and assist in identification of productive areas for extension of the new methods of evidence synthesis. Once the international level is complete, this can also be extended to the national level, adding information about interventions available across the different areas of the UK Biological Security Strategy.