Presidential Bioethics Panel gives go-ahead to research in synthetic biology

In its Thursday-issued report, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues has given the go-ahead to research in the field of synthetic biology – technology which involves the creation of new organisms via the synthesis and manipulation of DNA.

Synthetic biologists are already using the technology to engineer micro-organisms to produce a malaria drug and generate biofuels, in an attempt that it might form the basis of a vast new bio-economy that would be capable of partly supplanting petroleum-based industry.

In its report, the presidential bioethics panel concluded that the there is no requirement either of stalling research or of imposing new regulations on the somewhat controversial synthetic biology field.

Asking synthetic biologists to self regulate the activities in the field, the panel’s report said that since the technology is still in its early years, it does not pose any substantial risks; and added: “The commission thinks it imprudent either to declare a moratorium on synthetic biology until all risks can be determined and mitigated, or to simply ‘let science rip,’ regardless of the likely risks” of “bio-terror” and “bio-error.”

The report, also suggesting that the president’s office should better coordinate government agencies which oversee various aspects of synthetic biology, said: “The commission proposes a middle ground — an ongoing system of prudent vigilance that carefully monitors, identifies and mitigates potential and realized harms over time.”

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