US presidential ethics commission grapples with synthetic biology

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 13 July 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c3732
  1. Bob Roehr
  1. 1Washington, DC

    The risks and rewards of synthetic biology are minimal as long as it remains in the laboratory, but the potential for both expands enormously when it crosses the threshold into commercial application, experts told the newly reconstituted US Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues at its 8-9 July meeting.

    The nascent field is the next step beyond genetically modified organisms. It moves from simply transferring genes from one organism to another to digitising that genetic information, with the capacity to reassemble it molecule by molecule in new combinations to create new organisms.

    “We need new tools to make vaccines a lot faster,” the geneticist J Craig Venter told the commission. “NIH [National …

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