Guidelines to stop bioterror released to synthetic DNA companies

Federal health officials have recently released guidelines on how companies that supply synthetic DNA should screen orders to ensure that groups or individuals do not use synthetic DNA to create dangerous organisms for bioterror purposes.

U.S. Department of Health and Hospitals officials told CIDRAP News that the guidelines, titled “Screening Framework Guidance for Providers of Synthetic Double-Stranded DNA”, are an attempt to limit the deliberate misuse of synthetic DNA without hampering its beneficial uses.

One safeguard in the guidelines dictates that suppliers screen customers and the DNA sequences they order and to investigate if any concerns are raised. The guidelines also require providers to screen customers to establish the legitimacy of groups, confirm the identity of individuals and ensure that orders comply with U.S. trade restrictions and export control regulations.

Dr. Nicole Lurie, the HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response, told CIDRAP News that providers are also advised to screen the sequences ordered to determine if they are sequences of concern.

Lurie said that if follow-up screening doesn't resolve concerns, providers should contact the federal government for further assistance.

“This guidance is an important step in ensuring that synthetic DNA is used to promote, not threaten, public health,” Lurie said, CIDRAP News reports. “The guidance also recognizes the steps industry has taken proactively to address potential biosecurity risks and seeks to minimize negative impacts on research and business.”