July 2010

The Risks and Rewards of Synthetic Genomics

But Venter was more cautious. “I am an optimist and a scientist,” he said, emphasizing that that new applications will need to be proved and may be a decade away from the marketplace.

Weighing the Risks

Meanwhile, several members of the committee expressed concern about the potential misuse of the technology.

For more information

• Learn more about the hearing and read written testimony from the witnesses.

• Venter’s article in Science Express.

“Advancements in science must be balanced by strict ethical guidelines,” said U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J.

Pointing to a “culture of responsibility,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, outlined some of the oversight mechanisms that exist for similar research.

Fauci said that, although current regulations don’t specifically address synthetic biology, the NIH recently drafted new guidelines and is soliciting public feedback. He also noted that the private sector has created best practices that are implemented almost universally.

“People with nefarious motives don’t need synthetic biology,” Fauci said, noting that it would be much easier to cause harm using other methods. He cautioned against creating new and restrictive regulations.

Synthetic biology “doesn’t add much to the ability to do bad stuff” and has “much greater applicability to do something really good,” Fauci said.

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