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Health Secur 2015;13(6):378-389
Synthetic biology is an emerging technical field that aims to make biology easier to engineer; the field has applications in strategically important sectors for the US economy. While the United States currently leads in synthetic biology R&D, other nations are heavily investing in order to boost their economies, which will inevitably diminish the US leadership position. This outcome is not entirely negative—additional investments will expand markets—but it is critical that the US government take steps to remain competitive: There are applications from which the US population and economy may benefit; there are specific applications with importance for national defense; and US technical leadership will ensure that US experts have a leading role in synthetic biology governance, regulation, and oversight. Measures to increase competitiveness in S&T generally are broadly applicable for synthetic biology and should be pursued. However, the US government will also need to take action on fundamental issues that will affect the field's development, such as countering anti-GMO (genetically modified organism) sentiments and anti-GMO legislation. The United States should maintain its regulatory approach so that it is the product that is regulated, not the method used to create a product. At the same time, the United States needs to ensure that the regulatory framework is updated so that synthetic biology products do not fall into regulatory gaps. Finally, the United States needs to pay close attention to how synthetic biology applications may be governed internationally, such as through the Nagoya Protocol of the Convention on Biological Diversity, so that beneficial applications may be realized.