Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Scientist, Police Thyself

Scientist, Police Thyself -- Bhattacharjee 2006 (1205): 3 -- ScienceNOW: "Scientist, Police Thyself

By Yudhijit Bhattacharjee
ScienceNOW Daily News
5 December 2006

"Thanks to advances in synthetic genomics, an aspiring bioterrorist could turn a harmless virus into a deadly strain—or make a killer bug from scratch—by ordering some strands of DNA. Yesterday, an independent group of biologists and security experts confronted this threat by issuing a draft report that lays out options for regulating commercial gene synthesis and academic research in the field.

The group was led by individuals at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, and funded by a $570,000 grant from the Sloan Foundation. The report was presented [in Washington] before an audience of academic scientists, government officials, and industry representatives. Its recommendations for regulating the industry include requiring gene synthesis companies to screen orders, deny services to customers who are not certified by institutional biosafety officers, and maintain a database of orders that can be accessed by federal investigators.

As for supervising research, the report suggests options such as allowing scientists to govern themselves voluntarily through reviews conducted by existing institutional biosafety committees (IBCs) and imposing penalties on institutions and researchers that don't carry out such reviews. And to ensure that terrorists don't get access to scientific information that could be used to develop bioweapons, the report recommends journal editors remove sensitive details from manuscripts--with or without the help of a national advisory group. It also suggests the creation of a restricted database, which would allow researchers to share sensitive information with each other without making it public."


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