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Synthetic Bio Group Finalizes Code of Conduct

This article has been updated to provide a timeline for the creation and distribution of the IASB's code of conduct.

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The International Association of Synthetic Biology announced that it has finalized its code of conduct for gene synthesis, covering ethics, biosafety, and biosecurity aspects of gene synthesis.

The code of conduct put forth by the European group was finalized on Nov. 3 in a workshop in Cambridge, Mass., and then circulated among workshop participants and distributed to stakeholders before being announced this week.

Last week, a separate international consortium focused on developing best practices for biosecurity protocols announced its formation. That group — called the International Gene Synthesis Consortium — includes Blue Heron Biotechnology, DNA2.0, GeneArt, GenScript and Integrated DNA Technologies, and said that it will work with governments and other interested parties to support efforts to keep gene synthesis technologies from being misused.

The IASB said that one focus of the code of conduct was screening of DNA sequences. The group said that the code mandates that for all orders of synthetic genes, vendors must determine whether a sequence is associated with a pathogenic organism.

"If there is any association a subject matter expert must evaluate the risk potential of the sequence," IASB said in a statement this week. "In the case of a confirmed risk, the vendor will fill the order only if the customer is legitimate and can demonstrate that the sequence is ordered for benevolent research. If not the request has to be declined."

During the recently held workshop, the group introduced a new database for virulence factors, which was created in response to a lack of sequence-level data on virulence factors and the molecular biology of pathogenicity. The project, called VIREP, "enables gene synthesis facilities to collaborate on the screening of potentially dangerous DNA sequences and allows them to exchange data on previous screening decisions," said IASB.

In addition, IASB said the workshop agreed to form a technical expert group on biosecurity to develop benchmarks, guidelines, and specifications for DNA sequence screening and technical measures to increase biosafety and biosecurity in synthetic biology.

"Synthetic biology offers a vast potential, both economically and in terms of societal benefits," Markus Fischer, of Regensburg, Germany-based Entelechon, said. "This code will help to leverage this potential in a safe and responsible way. Once the field matures, the code will likely be complemented by appropriate legislation."

In addition to Entelechon, other founding members of IASB include ATG:Biosynthetics, Biomax Informatics, Febit Synbio, and Sloning BioTechnology.