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July 11, 2018

The DNA Cops Who Make Sure the World’s Deadliest Viruses Are Not Rebuilt

  • Science
  • Genetics/Genomics

Bloomberg — Genetic engineering could help produce more resilient crops and more effective vaccines. Some fear that it could also be used to make a biological weapon. In January, a small research team at the University of Alberta engineered a cousin of the lethal smallpox virus called horsepox, using strands of DNA they received in the mail. The organism that they built wasn’t a threat to humans. But when the scientists published their findings in scientific journal PLOS ONE, an uproar ensued.

For years, bioethicists and security experts have debated whether those closely guarded samples should be destroyed. But the widespread availability of the basic building blocks of life online means bad actors may not have to break into a remote lab and steal a smallpox virus sample to unleash a devastating act of biological terrorism. They may be able to assemble it themselves. 
To help curtail the threat, the U.S. intelligence community, which has been tracking the potential for new biological technology to be used for nefarious ends for years, is working with a Boston-based company, Ginkgo Bioworks, that makes some of the most innovative genetic products in the world to help prevent a new class of dangerous biological weapons from ever being built. 

Read more at Bloomberg.

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