Biosecurity of Synthetic Biology

biosecurity team at the fbi
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Biosecurity Screens to Keep Synthetic Biology Safe

We have developed software that implements the screening algorithm recommended by the Department of Health and Human Services in a document entitled “Screening Frameworks Guidance for Synthetic Double-Stranded DNA Providers.” We characterized the relationship between the computational cost of the sequence screening algorithm, the rate of false positives or innocuous sequences that are incorrectly red flagged, and the rate of false negatives or sequences of concern not detected by the screening algorithm. The screen is applied to a database composed of a mixture of publicly available sets of synthetic DNA sequences and annotated test cases designed for this project. This large scale analysis will lead to the determination of optimal screen parameters that represent an acceptable compromise between the security concerns of the government and the operational constraints of gene synthesis companies.

The rapid progress in synthetic biology demonstrated by the recent publication of the first synthetic cell by Craig Venter and his team has raised biosecurity concerns among the public, its elected officials, and various administrations. This grant facilitates the adoption of DNA screening algorithm recommended by the federal government to detect, in the order books of gene synthesis companies, the presence of sequences of concern requiring further investigations. More information about GenoGUARD, the software developed with the grant, is available here.

Sources of Funding

Selected Publications

  1. Adam L., Kozar M., Letort G., Mirat O., Srivastava A, Stewart T, Wilson ML, Peccoud J (2011) Strengths and limitations of the federal guidance on synthetic DNA Nature Biotechnology 29 (3) : 208-210