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Bioethics Commission calls for enhanced federal oversight in new field of synthetic biology
Date:12/16/2010

others close to the issue and considered a range of possible actions the government could take to prevent problems that might occur in the future.

Several experts explored potential benefits of synthetic biology, including the development of vaccines and new drugs and the production of biofuels that could someday reduce the need for fossil fuels. Discussions addressed the risks posed by the technology, including the inadvertent release of a laboratory-created organism into nature and the potential adverse effects of such a release on ecosystems. To reduce any possible threat, some scientists and ethicists advised careful monitoring and review of the research.

The Commission concluded that while the technical challenges of synthetic biology remain daunting, the field is likely to become more decentralized as the relevant tools become increasingly available and affordable-a change that may pose novel challenges with regard to oversight

"While the 'Do-It-Yourself' community has an important role to play in advancing synthetic biology, we recognize that technical challenges and costs are too high right now for a completely novel organism to be developed in a non-institutional setting," said Dr. James W. Wagner, Commission Vice Chair and President of Emory University. "We strongly support an open dialogue between DIY groups and the government as we go forward so that scientists and government can discuss the research constraints necessary to protect public safety as the field continues to evolve."

The Commission recommended the following steps in order to minimize risks and to foster innovation:

  • The Executive Office of the President, possibly through the Office of Science and Technology Policy, should coordinate federal agencies that oversee areas related to synthetic biology, including oversight, product licensing and funding.

  • Risk assessment activities across the government need to be coordinated
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Contact: Jemma Weymouth
jweymouth@burnesscommunications.com
301-652-1558
Burness Communications
Source:Eurekalert

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