1 September 2010

Back to the future: Controlling synthetic life science trade in DNA sequences

Ian Kerridge

Ian Kerridge is an associate professor and the director of the Centre
for Values, Ethics, and the Law in Medicine at the University of Sydney, Australia....


Gabrielle Samuel

Gabrielle Samuel is a PhD student at the Centre for Biomedicine and
Society, Kings College London. She also holds a BSc (Hons) in biochemistry


Michael J. Selgelid

Michael J. Selgelid is a senior research fellow in the Centre for
Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics (CAPPE) at Australian National University in

In recent years there has been an enormous growth of interest in synthetic genomics and synthetic biology, which we collectively refer to as the synthetic life sciences. Rapid progress in this field has enabled the synthesis of biomolecules, whole genomes, and even simple life forms, raising hopes for the development of new bioproducts capable of addressing a wide range of ecological, technological, and biomedical challenges. However, the synthetic life sciences also pose a number of biosecurity and biosafety risks. Numerous regulatory options for the control of synthetic life sciences have been advanced. In this piece, the authors discuss one of those regulatory options: control of trade in DNA sequences. After reviewing the most commonly advanced proposals for regulation of the DNA sequence trade, they consider whether a clearinghouse for centralizing the oversight of all DNA sequence ordering would provide a better means of regulating the DNA sequence trade. They conclude that though a clearinghouse could potentially provide a promising means of regulation, the technology required for an effective clearinghouse is not currently available. Current policy making should be partly concerned with ensuring development of adequate technology for regulation in the future.