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

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.


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