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NTI and WEF Convene Second Annual Meeting of DNA Synthesis Screening Technical Consortium

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NTI | bio and the World Economic Forum (WEF) brought together global leaders from industry, academia, philanthropy, and international organizations to discuss progress in developing an international Common Mechanism for DNA synthesis screening during the second annual meeting of the Technical Consortium on DNA Synthesis Screening on April 28. NTI | bio and WEF articulated the need for a global framework for accessible, safe, and secure DNA synthesis in a joint report published in 2020 and have continued work towards this goal as part of the NTI’s Biosecurity Innovation and Risk Reduction Initiative.

DNA synthesis is a key service that supports the growing bioeconomy, and demand for customized synthetic DNA is growing. While DNA synthesis is critically important for biotechnology advances, including rapid development of therapeutics and vaccines, this service must be protected from malicious actors who may seek to exploit it to cause harm. Screening DNA synthesis orders is critically important to ensure that the maximum benefit of biotechnology can be realized while mitigating risks.

NTI | bio and WEF launched efforts to develop a global Common Mechanism for DNA synthesis screening in May 2020 at the inaugural meeting of the international Technical Consortium. Members of the Consortium recognized the importance of creating a global standard and capability for DNA synthesis providers to safeguard their industry. Screening DNA orders can be costly, time-consuming, and technically challenging for many companies. Despite these challenges, many DNA providers voluntarily screen DNA synthesis orders to prevent misuse. Nevertheless, glaring gaps remain. An estimated 80 percent the global market share for DNA synthesis is currently screened by providers, but this practice is not currently a legal requirement in any country around the world.

To address this vulnerability, Technical Consortium members are working to develop proposed specifications for an international Common Mechanism for DNA synthesis screening. Over the past year, they have been focused on three key issues:

  • Screening the sequences of DNA orders to ensure that they are not inadvertently providing the components of dangerous pathogens
  • Screening customers to ensure that they are working with legitimate researchers
  • Thinking through the application of these approaches to the emerging benchtop synthesis market, which will enable distributed DNA synthesis in the coming years.

Working in close partnership with Technical Consortium experts, NTI | bio has developed proposed specifications for the Common Mechanism and plans to develop and test a prototype. In parallel, NTI | bio is continuing its work to shape and promote incentives that reduce barriers to adoption and strengthen the global baseline for DNA synthesis screening.

The DNA Synthesis Screening project is led by NTI | bio Senior Fellow Dr. Jaime Yassif, supported by program assistant Chris Isaac, and consultants Dr. Sarah Carter and Dr. Nicole Wheeler. This project is part of the Biosecurity Innovation and Risk Reduction Initiative. Learn more about the Initiative and other projects here.

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