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JCVI, MIT, CSIS Call for Synthetic Genomics Policy that Balances Safety, Flexibility

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A team of policy analysts from the J. Craig Venter Institute, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the Center for Strategic & International Studies released a report today that outlines "areas for interventions and policy options" to address the potential risks of synthetic genomics research.
The report, funded by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, is the result of 20 months of research and involved a team of 14 policy experts.
This group of researchers analyzed the current state of synthetic genomics technology to develop a "comprehensive set of options for policy makers, researchers and companies in the field." The report, "Synthetic Genomics: Options for Governance," offers options for biosecurity, laboratory safety, and protection of the community and environment.
The group said it used input from "many different stakeholders, including developers and users of DNA synthesis technology, as well as the biosecurity community," to identify three primary areas that will likely require governance.
The first such area includes firms that supply synthetic DNA, and the report recommends that these firms use special software that would screen orders for DNA that could in some way cause harm.
The second set of options concerns the reagents and DNA synthesizers used in gene synthesis, and the report notes that groups using such technology might be required to register their hardware, or may be required to have licenses to buy certain chemicals used in the synthesis process.
A third set of options targets users of synthetic genomics technologies and includes improved education about the risks and best practices when using these technologies. Another recommendation is an expanded role for institutional biosafety committees to review a wider range of activities.
"We have formulated governance options that attempt to reduce security- and safety risks without imposing undue burdens on researchers, industry, or government," said Gerald Epstein of the CSIS's Homeland Security Program.

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