News of the WeekBiosecurity

Defining Select Agents by DNA Sequence

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Science  06 Aug 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5992, pp. 615
DOI: 10.1126/science.329.5992.615

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To work with dangerous pathogens such as anthrax, U.S. researchers must follow strict rules governing so-called select agents, or potential bioweapons. But what about a DNA sequence ordered from a company that contains some of the genes that make anthrax deadly? Currently, such an entity—or an artificial organism designed with such DNA—would not be subject to the same regulations despite its potential as a bioweapon, simply because of the way select agents are defined. A report by the National Academies this week recommends plugging this loophole with a new system of defining select agents based on DNA sequences.