The Dark Side of Gene Synthesis

by on 10th of September, 2007 in Cloning & Expression
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Nick Oswald started Bitesize Bio on a Macbook on his kitchen table in 2007 while in his 7th year of working as a molecular biologist in biotech. He made it his day job in 2010 and has been loving it ever since.
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images.jpegAfter 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, 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.

4 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Gene Synthesis”

  1. Hsien Lei says:

    Have you read or heard of Barry Kellman's book, Bioviolence? Was wondering what you thought of it….

  2. Avatar of Nick Oswald Nick Oswald says:

    I have never read it, but it certainly sounds interesting. Of course there is a lot of scope for scaremongering to help with marketing these types of book, but there is no getting away from the core truth that these things will become possible in the not-so-distant future. Scary stuff, I'll just put it alongside the other things to worry about like Avian Flu, The Yellowstone Volcano, The missing Russian suitcase nuclear devices etc etc :)

  3. Hsien Lei says:

    You're list of scary things s almost as long as mine! And no thanks for the new addition of the Russian suitcase nuclear device. I already have "Russian radioactive material in my tea" on the list. heh

  4. Hsien Lei says:

    Here's another scary thing to add to the list – "losing my mind and being unable to distinguish between its and it's, your and you're." (banghead)

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