Viewpoint: Creation of synthetic DNA demands ethical boundaries for its use

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Image credit: Paige Wentworth

A study published [February 21] expands the redesign of the 4-billion-year-old genetic code from a four-nucleotide base-pair alphabet to an eight-base-pair alphabet by incorporating artificial nucleotides.

One of the remarkable features of nucleic acid biology is the capacity of every living organism to correct most but not all errors in normal germ-line DNA replication.

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[However,] introducing structurally deep chemistry changes in DNA within living systems could generate unpredictable and possibly lethal outcomes by allowing natural selection to proceed through a competition between current life forms and new ones using modified genetic codes.

The second concern is the potential of this technology to create organisms that could be used as bioterror weapons. Dual-use research—biological experiments with legitimate scientific goals that may be misused to pose a threat to public health or national security—is a serious concern.

Related article:  Rare genetic diseases can arise from unsuspecting carriers

We urge a convening of a commission of scientists and the agencies that fund their research, to discuss the matter of whether or not some new lines of work using modified genetic codes should be suspended until their long-term safety can be analyzed under strictly controlled conditions.

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Read full, original post: Opinion: Ethical Boundaries Needed on the Uses of Synthetic DNA

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