Presidential panel OKs synthetic biology, but urges federal attention

A presidential commission gave the green light to synthetic biology but said the federal government should keep close tabs on this growing field in recommendations issued Thursday morning.

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues rejected the need for additional federal regulations or a moratorium on synthetic biology. The study was ordered after scientists in May announced they created a new organism by inserting a laboratory-made genome into a bacterial cell.

"The Commission believes that the field of synthetic biology can proceed responsibly by embracing a middle ground — an ongoing process of prudent vigilance that carefully monitors, identifies, and mitigates potential and realized harms over time," wrote the 13-member panel composed of scientists, ethicists and public policy experts. 

The panel recommended the federal government coordinate efforts to provide an ongoing review of developments, risks, opportunities and oversight of this growing field. Reasonable risk assessments should precede any field release of new synthetic biology products, the commission also recommended. 

Most of the anticipated health benefits of synthetic biology, however, are still in the preliminary research stage, the report said.

"We are unlikely to see commercial applications from much of the biomedically oriented synthetic biology research for many years, although the pace of discovery is unpredictable," the commission wrote.