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White House Tackles 'Synthetic Life' Ethics

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The White House has wasted no time in addressing yesterday's news that scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute have succeeded in creating a synthetic life form that can replicate itself, and has tasked its bioethics team with looking into the potential issues that may surround such technology.

Calling the advance "a milestone in the emerging field of cellular and genetic research," President Barack Obama yesterday asked his Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to make synthetic biology its first project.

In a letter to Amy Gutmann, who chairs the bioethics commission and is a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, President Obama called for the group to study the implications of this research, produce a report on the field, and to make recommendations for federal actions, if they are deemed necessary.

In the letter, the White House said that it wants the commission to consider potential medical, environmental, security and other benefits of this field, as well as "potential health, security, or other risks," and to produce a report with findings and recommendations within six months.

The commission "should take to ensure that America reaps the benefits of this developing field of science while identifying appropriate ethical boundaries and minimizing identified risks," the letter stated.

The President also asked that the commission consult with "a range of constituencies, including scientific and medical communities, faith communities, and business and nonprofit organizations."

"It is vital that we as a society consider, in a thoughtful manner, the significance of this kind of scientific development," the White House said.