Gene Synthesis Companies Pledge to Foil Bioterrorists

Advances in synthetic biology have prompted fears that terrorists might develop biological weapons by purchasing made-to-order DNA sequences from gene synthesis companies and using them to engineer deadly pathogens. Five of the world's leading gene synthesis companies today announced steps they are already implementing—or plan to implement—a plan to prevent misuse of the technology. The announcement comes amid calls for tougher government controls on the field of synthetic genomics.

The companies, which make up what they call the International Gene Synthesis Consortium, already examine purchase orders to ensure that they are not supplying customers with genomes of pathogens that many governments consider as potential threats to biosecurity. The consortium's members now plan to strengthen this procedure by screening orders against a database they say will be more comprehensive.

In addition, the companies have committed to screening clients to confirm their identities and ensure that the clients are permitted by their governments to possess the sequences they've requested. And the companies will keep all records of orders, screenings, and deliveries for at least 8 years to assist law enforcement if necessary.

"Gene synthesis itself provides us with powerful new opportunities to combat the threat of bioterrorism," Jeremy Minshull, president of DNA2.0—a consortium member, said in a press release. "We won't tolerate attempts to misuse gene synthesis technology to threaten the safety of any community."