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Threats of Synthetic Biology

The US Department of Defense has ranked synthetic biology as a top threat, according to NPR.

In a new report commissioned by the DoD, a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committee examined dangers that could be posed by advancements in synthetic biology. According to the report, the top three threats posed by synthetic biology are its ability to be applied to re-create pathogenic viruses, make existing bacteria harmful, and develop harmful biochemical with in situ synthesis.

"In and of itself, synthetic biology is not harmful," committee chair Michael Imperiale from the University of Michigan says in a statement. "The level of concern depends on the specific applications or capabilities that it may enable."

He and his colleagues also presented a schema to evaluate that concern based on how easy the technology is to use, if it could be weaponized, how much experience or resources would be required to do so, and whether steps could be taken to lessen the risk.

Christian Hassell, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for chemical and biological defense, tells Technology Review that "synbio is not a major threat issue at the moment" in the military's view, but that it is worth preparing for, as developing vaccines, for instance, takes time.