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Biological Chemistry

Synthetic Biology Has Limited Risks

by Britt E. Erickson
December 20, 2010 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 88, ISSUE 51

Research in the emerging field of synthetic biology should continue without interruption and new regulations are not needed at this time, a report from the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues concludes. However, more coordinated federal oversight is needed to monitor future risks to security and safety, and more ethics education is needed for synthetic biology researchers, the report says. Synthetic biology, which involves the design and construction of synthetic organisms from building blocks such as DNA and chromosomes, hit the mainstream news in May following an announcement by the J. Craig Venter Institute that it had created a new organism by inserting a synthetic genome into a bacterial cell (C&EN, May 24, page 10). President Barack Obama requested that the commission study the risks and benefits of synthetic biology. A 13-member panel of ethicists, scientists, and policy experts considered several regulatory options. Ultimately, the panel recommended more coordinated federal oversight but said that synthetic biology is still new enough that regulators have time to work with relevant stakeholders to identify potential problems and maximize public benefits.

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