Skip to main content
Premium Trial:

Request an Annual Quote

Spotting Suspect Sequences

New synthetic biology tools could make piecing together a deadly pathogen easier than before, but there are watchdogs hoping to prevent that from happening, Bloomberg reports.

Last year, a Canadian team published its work recreating the horsepox virus — a relative of smallpox — using DNA fragments they ordered online. This, it adds, caused a backlash and raised concerns that a similar approach could be used to recreate smallpox. In addition, Bloomberg notes that as the field advances, it will become easier for less-equipped labs to do such tinkering.

It reports, though, that the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity in the US is working with Battelle Memorial Institute, Harvard University, Virginia Tech, and Ginkgo Bioworks to develop algorithms to spot orders for genetic sequences that could be put to nefarious use. Battelle, for instance, received an award earlier this year to develop software to predict the function of a DNA fragment to gauge its threat level.

Asha George, executive director of the Blue Ribbon Study Panel on Biodefense, tells Bloomberg that IARPA's focus on synthetic biology is encouraging. "The amount of effort we're still putting toward the nuclear threat, the chemical threat, the incendiary threat is so much more than the United States government — or any government, for that matter — is putting towards bio-preparedness, that's just a fact," she says. "The biological threats do not receive the same level of attention as other threats."

The Scan

Long COVID-19 Susceptibility Clues Contained in Blood Plasma Proteome

A longitudinal study in eBioMedicine found weeks-long blood plasma proteome shifts after SARS-CoV-2 infection, along with proteomic signatures that appeared to coincide with long Covid risk.

Tibetan Study Finds Adaptive Variant Influencing Skin Pigmentation

With a combination of phenotyping and genetic data, researchers document at PNAS a Tibetan-enriched enhancer variant influencing melanin synthesis and ultraviolet light response.

Domestication Linked to Nervous System Genes in Inbred Mouse Strains

Researchers highlighted more than 300 positively selected genes in domesticated mice, including genes linked to nervous system function or behavior in Genome Biology.

ALS Genetic Testing May Be Informative Across Age Ranges, Study Finds

Researchers in the journal Brain identified clinically actionable variants in a significant subset of older ALS patients, prompting them to point to the potential benefits of broader test use.