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NAS Kind-of, Sort-of Has a Synthetic Bio Solution

Sean Eddy at Cryptogenomicon says he's glad to see that the National Academy of Sciences report, "Sequence-based classification of select agents: a brighter line" — which he's worked on with 12 colleagues for the "past year or so" — has finally been released. According to the National Academies news release, "a DNA sequence-based system to better define when a pathogen or toxin is subject to Select Agent regulations could be developed," which "could be coupled with a 'yellow flag' system that would recognize requests to synthesize suspicious sequences." Eddy says that there are 82 Select Agents listed in the national registry, co-developed by the US Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. The proposed Select Agent Regulations include the "'complete,' 'infectious' DNA or RNA genome of a Select Agent, not just the organism itself," Eddy writes, noting the potential limitations of this method, not the least of which is the fact that "lots of innocuous things show sequence similarity to Select Agents." Because of this and other potential challenges, "the committee did not specifically recommend that either the classification or yellow flag system be implemented, nor did it address whether the additional administrative structure needed to maintain such a classification system would be justified," according to the National Academies. Instead, the 216-page report outlines the technological feasibility, costs, and "complexity of implementation" associated with such systems.

The Scan

Pig Organ Transplants Considered

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Food and Drug Administration may soon allow clinical trials that involve transplanting pig organs into humans.

'Poo-Bank' Proposal

Harvard Medical School researchers suggest people should bank stool samples when they are young to transplant when they later develop age-related diseases.

Spurred to Develop Again

New Scientist reports that researchers may have uncovered why about 60 percent of in vitro fertilization embryos stop developing.

Science Papers Examine Breast Milk Cell Populations, Cerebral Cortex Cellular Diversity, Micronesia Population History

In Science this week: unique cell populations found within breast milk, 100 transcriptionally distinct cell populations uncovered in the cerebral cortex, and more.