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Bioethics Commission Catches Flack over Report

In its newly released report, The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues says that synthetic biology currently poses few risks and recommends that investigators in the field self-regulate their research, according to the New York Times. "Here's something significant in science, but there's no cause for fear and dread about what is going to happen immediately next," says commission chair Amy Gutmann about synthetic biology. In addition, Craig Venter, who discussed his synthetic genomics research with the panel, tells the Times he considers the group's recommendations "wise, warranted and restrained, which will help to ensure that this young field of research will flourish in a positive manner."

However, not everyone is pleased with the commission's stance. "More than 50 environmental groups from around the world signed an open letter to federal officials calling for a moratorium on the release and commercial use of synthetic organisms until the risks are understood and regulations developed," the Times adds. Among other things, the letter warns that "self-regulation amounts to no regulation."

While its critics are vociferous — Rutgers University's Richard Ebright calls the commission's recommendations "very thin gruel," and says that the report "suggests no substantive oversight and that [it] is fundamentally empty," in a Nature article — Jonathon Moreno at Science Progress says that the commission struck "the right balance" in weighing the risks and benefits of the emerging field.

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