The Dark Side of Gene Synthesis

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 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.


  1. Hsien Lei on September 11, 2007 at 9:39 am

    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)

  2. Hsien Lei on September 11, 2007 at 9:38 am

    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

  3. Nick on September 11, 2007 at 8:45 am

    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 🙂

  4. Hsien Lei on September 10, 2007 at 11:01 pm

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

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