DNA for Terrorism

DNA for Terrorism

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted September 15, 2008 in DNA and the Law, Genetic Engineering

 image for id L0029724New Scientist reports that the Industry Association of Synthetic Biology (IASB) will begin issuing a seal of approval for members to post on their websites which will show that the companies screen their orders for potentially dangerous DNA sequences. The US National Science Advisory Board had been concerned about the potential for terrorists to purchase synthetic DNA to create deadly viruses.

In order to reduce the the chances of bioterrorism using commercially available genetic engineering, IASB committed to:

  1. An anonymized survey of industrially produced and delivered genes
  2. A sequence database accessible for all companies involved in gene synthesis that will help to identify orders requiring closer scrutiny

In related news, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said last week the city ranks only 21st out of 54 eligible states and cities in the amount of funding for bioterrorism prevention despite the city being the number one target for terrorists. The mayor said funding is allocated irrespective of the risk for terrorist attack.

Because of the anthrax episodes in 2001, New York is one of only a handful of places in the nation that’s ever experienced a bio-terror attack. Yet in Fiscal Year 2008, we received $2.72 per capita, putting us an incredible 21st out of 54 eligible states and cities.

For more about bioterrorism, see previous Eye on DNA posts – Beware of Genetic Bioviolence and Could Altering DNA in Bacteria Post a Terrorist Threat?

Photo credit: Wellcome Library, 1927 Anthrax poster

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