The President has directed his Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to report on the emerging field of synthetic biology. The Commission recently heard from scientists and other witnesses about the promise and risks of synthetic biology.

Following published reports that scientists have created a bacterium with a synthetic genome, some ethics experts have called for new federal research guidelines. Some argue, however, that the development of the new bacterium was merely a slight advance from techniques molecular biologists have been using for decades. Appearing before the Commission, Amy Patterson of the National Institutes of Health noted that guidelines currently in place for federally funded research on recombinant DNA are already being applied to synthetic biology.

The Commission’s recent meeting was the first step in the development of a report on the ethics of synthetic biology, which is due to be completed within six months. The issue is the first addressed by the President’s newly created Bioethics Commission. The panel will meet again in September and November before issuing their final report on the topic.


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