Synthetic Biology:SB2.0/Biosecurity resolutions

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From Jay Keasling:
Over the past few years, synthetic biologists have thought hard about how to improve biosafety and biosecurity. Most of these ideas would require new regulations, laws, or treaties. Some, however, can be implemented at the community level. Day 3 of SB2.0 conference will give us a chance to debate, vote and launch community initiatives. If we can take meaningful action on biosafety and biosecurity, that will be time well spent.

Possible Resolutions

Community Input

There are a variety of ways to contribute to discussion of these and other possible resolutions.

  • Berkeley Town Hall Meeting. (April 18th, please see the webcast)
  • MIT Town Hall Meeting. (April 21st, webcase link to come)
  • EU-USA Synthetic Biology Workshop. The organizers have offered to discuss the proposals as part of their previously scheduled workshop in Warren, Virginia (US) on April 23.
  • We have established a listserv for interested parties. You can join by sending an e-mail to starrt AT berkeley DOT edu.

Wiki Discussion

This is a placeholder page for discussions around the recent white paper:

From Understanding to Action: Community-Based Options for Improving Safety and Security in Synthetic Biology
Stephen M. Maurer, Keith V. Lucas & Starr Terrell
Goldman School of Public Policy
University of California at Berkeley
PDF link

Below the text from the executive summary is included as discussed at the MIT town hall on April 21, 2006. (Note that this is slightly different text than that used in the proposed resolutions in the white paper).

[Editorial note: Depending on the amount of discussion, individual resolutions should be spun out to their own pages.]

A.1 Insist That All Commercial Gene Synthesis Houses Adopt Current Best Practice Screening Procedures.

While most gene synthesis companies screen orders for dangerous sequences, a few do not. This gives both community members and outsiders access to feedstocks for both wild-type and genetically engineered bioweapons. Community members should stop doing business with any gene synthesis company that fails to implement current best-practice screening methods by January 1, 2007.

Discussion summary

[Editorial note: Likely to have errors and/or omissions. Please revise! Additional contributions welcome.]

  1. Should explicitly enumerate those areas which this resolution fails to address. [Laurie Zoloth]
  2. Best practices should involve safety & security screening at multiple stages including [Brian Baynes]
    1. Customer screening (disputed)
    2. Customer verification (disputed)
    3. Sequence screening
    4. Sequence archiving
  3. No specific discussion of how to decide compliance or how to reconcile disagreements. [Sri Kosuri]
  4. Need process for defining "best practices" [Natalie Kuldell]
  5. Need methods for verifying. [John Cumbers]
  6. Historical examples/consequences of secondary boycotts should be considered [Ken Oye]
  7. Missing more?

A.2 Create and Endorse New Watch-Lists To Improve Industry Screening Programs.

Improved watch-lists and software tools can make industry screening more accurate and efficient. Members should prepare the necessary lists and tools in time for Synthetic Biology 3.0.

Discussion summary

[Editorial note: Likely to have errors and/or omissions. Please revise! Additional contributions welcome.]

  1. Should outline procedures by which watch-lists and/or algorithms are developed. [Reshma Shetty, George Church]

B.1. Create a Confidential Hotline For Biosafety and Biosecurity Issues.

All experimenters contemplating “experiments of concern” should obtain independent expert advice before proceeding. The community should make such advice freely available to all experimenters, including non-members (e.g. hackers) who cannot otherwise obtain such advice from formal university, company, or NIH safety committees.

Discussion summary

[Editorial note: Likely to have errors and/or omissions. Please revise! Additional contributions welcome.]

  1. Redundancy with Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee or RAC. [Kris Jones Prather]
  2. Should be revised to focus on offering a RAC-like mechanism to the independent synthetic biology community outside of institutions with RACs. [Drew Endy]

B.2. Affirm Members’ Ethical Obligation to Investigate and Report Dangerous Behavior.

Members have an obligation to investigate and, if necessary, report dangerous behavior. Members should affirm this obligation by formal resolution at Synthetic Biology 2.0.

C. Create a Community-Wide Clearinghouse for Identifying and Tracking Potential Biosafety/Biosecurity Issues.

Members who notice potential biosecurity issues have an obligation to share them with the broader community. A central clearinghouse will help the community to identify, track, and if necessary respond to the biosafety/biosecurity implications of a changing technology.

D. Endorse Biosecurity/Biosafety R&D Priorities.

New technologies can potentially reduce current biosafety/biosecurity risks even further. Members should identify, endorse, and urge funding agencies to invest in priority technologies such as safe chasses and bar codes.

E. Additional resolutions

Upon the uncontrolled physical release of a synthetic biological organism, community members should release all available sequence information and relevant system documentation. [Reshma Shetty]

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