Gene-synthesis rules favour convenience
Before the US government released its long-awaited guidelines for purveyors of synthetic DNA last week, some scientists were concerned that the standards, meant to foil would-be bioterrorists, would also hamper legitimate researchers. Instead, the limited scope of the voluntary guidelines has thrown into stark relief the difficulty of keeping tabs on the fast-growing business of gene synthesis.
Stephen Maurer, a public-policy researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, adds that the guidelines call for an initial automated screen of sequences by computer, a less stringent survey than getting employees to analyse each order as it comes in, as many companies already do. "You have a strange situation in which the US government is urging a lower security standard on the world," he says. 10/18/2010