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Not These Sequences

Because scientists can synthesize DNA much more quickly, NPR reports there are also concerns that some people who shouldn't might try to generate sequences from dangerous pathogens.

Patrick Boyle tells NPR that when he was a graduate student, he and his colleagues were lucky to synthesize six genes, but now his company, Ginkgo Bioworks, can make more than 100,00 genes a month. Emily Leproust, the CEO of Twist Bioscience, estimates that the global synthetic DNA industry generates some 3 billion basepairs of DNA each year.

But companies may decline certain requests to synthesize sequences they deem dangerous, NPR says. James Diggans, Twist's director of biosecurity, tells it that they have said no to some orders.

As NPR notes, some DNA synthesis firms are part of a consortium that has pledged to follow certain US biosecurity protocols, but others are not, so there is a range of standards they conform to. Diggans and others say, though, that even those guidelines are out of date as the technology has evolved since they were drawn up.

A Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson tells NPR that it is reviewing the guidelines for synthetic DNA manufacturers.