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Minimizing the Risks of Synthetic DNA

Advancements in genetic engineering and chemical synthesis of genes and whole genomes (‘synthetic genomics’) drive cutting edge research and novel solutions for practical applications in medicine, energy production, agriculture, and other areas. The most commonly cited examples in which an organism’s entire genome has been synthesized are the construction of poliovirus, the bacteria virus phiX, and the genome for a Mycoplasma bacterium completely from synthetic pieces of DNA. The first two of these examples resulted in the creation of infectious viruses “from scratch,” without the necessity of starting with samples of those viruses. While advancements in genetic engineering and synthesis could help strengthen our response against infectious disease
outbreaks, they could also be misapplied to evade a security regime that limits physical access to dangerous pathogens. The ability to synthesize genomes also raises concerns about the degree  to which novel organisms might be created that had unpredictable properties.