Panel urges oversight of synthetic biology

Dec. 15, 2010 at 7:45 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- A report says the U.S. federal government must take a lead oversight role in the emerging field of synthetic biology to balance the risks and benefits.

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues issued its first report Thursday on the field of synthetic biology, which involves the design and construction of laboratory-made biological parts.

In the report, the panel identified a number of oversight options for the pioneering research that could lead to new vaccines, drugs and biofuels, the commission said in a release.

The panel, comprised of scientists, ethicists and public policy experts, said regulators, ethicists and others would need to identify any problems early on and craft solutions that could harness the technology for the public good.

"We considered an array of approaches to regulation -- from allowing unfettered freedom with minimal oversight and another to prohibiting experiments until they can be ruled completely safe beyond a reasonable doubt," Amy Gutmann, the commission chairwoman and president of the University of Pennsylvania, said.

"We chose a middle course to maximize public benefits while also safeguarding against risks."

The commission's approach recognizes the great potential of synthetic biology, including life saving medicines, and the still distant risks posed by the field, Gutmann said.

"Prudent vigilance suggests that federal oversight is needed and can be exercised in a way that is consistent with scientific progress," she said.

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