Sep 1, 2009

Keeping genes out of terrorists’ hands

Posted by in categories: biological, biotech/medical, chemistry, counterterrorism, existential risks, policy

Nature News reports of a growing concern over different standards for DNA screening and biosecurity:

“A standards war is brewing in the gene-synthesis industry. At stake is the way that the industry screens orders for hazardous toxins and genes, such as pieces of deadly viruses and bacteria. Two competing groups of companies are now proposing different sets of screening standards, and the results could be crucial for global biosecurity.

“If you have a company that persists with a lower standard, you can drag the industry down to a lower level,” says lawyer Stephen Maurer of the University of California, Berkeley, who is studying how the industry is developing responsible practices. “Now we have a standards war that is a race to the bottom.”

For more than a year a European consortium of companies called the International Association of Synthetic Biology (IASB) based in Heidelberg, Germany, has been drawing up a code of conduct that includes gene-screening standards. Then, at a meeting in San Francisco last month, two of the leading companies — DNA2.0 of Menlo Park, California, and Geneart of Regensburg, Germany — announced that they had formulated a code of conduct that differs in one key respect from the IASB recommendations.”

Read the entire article on Nature News.

Also read “Craig Venter’s Team Reports Key Advance in Synthetic Biology” from JCVI.

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