After writing my recent article on custom gene synthesis, I came across this article in the excellent Seven Stones systems biology blog that highlights the potential dark side of this emerging technology. The article describes a recent Nature Biotechnology commentary by B??gl et al 2007 in which executives from the DNA synthesis industry discuss regulation of their industry in order to address biosecurity concerns.
According to ArmsControlatWork.com, a leading gene synthesis company, Blue Heron Biotechnology, claim that they could synthesise something the size of the entire polio genome in around 12 weeks. Of course, companies like Blue Heron will, and in fact have (see the ArmsControlatWork article), turn(ed) down suspicious orders, but other companies may not be so conscientious.
From this, it’s easy to see how the decoupling of gene synthesis from any sort of template requirement could simplify life for wannabe bioterrorists, especially as the technology advances. Hopefully through the proposed framework and other similar initiatives, gene synthesis can be sufficiently regulated so that this fantastically useful technology does not switch the lights out for all of us.