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Strengthening Security for Gene Synthesis: Recommendations for Governance

Amanda Kobokovich, Rachel West, Michael Montague, Tom Inglesby, and Gigi Kwik Gronvall
Date posted:
November 25, 2019
Publication type:

Health Secur 2019;17(6)

Mary Ann Liebert, Inc.
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Since the inception of gene synthesis technologies, there have been concerns about possible misuse. Using gene synthesis, pathogens—particularly small viruses—may be assembled “from scratch” in the laboratory, evading the regulatory regimes many nations have in place to control unauthorized access to dangerous pathogens. Progress has been made to reduce these risks. In 2010, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published guidance for commercial gene synthesis providers that included sequence screening of the orders and customer screening. The industry-led International Gene Synthesis Consortium (IGSC) was formed in 2009 to share sequence and customer screening methods, and it now includes the major international gene synthesis providers among its members. Since the 2010 HHS Guidance was released, however, there have been changes in gene synthesis technologies and market conditions that have reduced the efficacy of these biosecurity protections, leading to questions about whether the 2010 HHS Guidance should be updated, what changes could make it more effective, and what other international governance efforts could be undertaken to reduce the risks of misuse of gene synthesis products. This article describes these conditions and recommends actions that governments should take to reduce these risks and engage other nations involved in gene synthesis research.



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