Synthetic biology offers huge potential for practical applications in medicine, energy production, agriculture, and other areas. For a few thousand dollars, it is now possible to design custom DNA sequences the size of a viral genome, order these sequences from a DNA manufacturer, and receive the DNA in the mail within a few weeks. Experts are concerned, however, about the potential misuse of these emerging technologies and that is where the student's project could play a key role in preventing synthetic biology malpractice.
Jean Peccoud, associate professor at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (VBI) at Virginia Tech and leader of Virginia Tech's iGEM initiatives, said, "The students have taken great strides in implementing different possible interpretations of the federal recommendations. Their work characterizes the relationship between the computational cost of the screen and its sensitivity. This independent scientific analysis will identify practical solutions compatible with the operational constraints of commercial operators and refine policies aimed at protecting the nation without undermining its competitiveness."
Algorithms under development assess how similar a specific DNA sequence is to entries in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Select Agent and Toxin List. Keyword lists help to track down matches and allow for continual fine-tuning of the effectiveness of each search. The students are compiling a database of test cases that allows them to estimate the performance of different screening strategies.
Edward You, supervisory special agent in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, had the opportunity to visit VBI on June 4 and gave a seminar entitled "Biosecurity: The roles and responsibilities of academia and law enforcement". During his visit, he met with some of the students working on the iGEM project. "The students should be commended for tackling a real-life problem directly related to national security needs," said Agent You. By working on this significant project, they are actively participating in the development of responsible practice for this transformative science, which is exactly what the government of this country wants to encourage." He added: "It is very promising to see undergraduate students at iGEM engage their peers in thinking about biosecurity. The groundbreaking work of this international team impacts the safety of people around the globe."
Skip Garner, executive director of VBI, commented: "This project would not have been possible without the support of the MITRE Corporation and Science Applications International Corporation. The sponsorship of these two industrial organizations, widely recognized for their expertise in defense and security, will certainly help transform these scientific results into meaningful outcomes for society."
The final results of the Virginia Tech-ENSIMAG biosecurity team's analyses will be presented in November at the International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) synthetic biology competition organized by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
US Department of Health and Human Services voluntary guidelines "Screening Framework Guidance for Synthetic Double-Stranded DNA Providers" November 2009. See http://bit.ly/cwkcpb
Minimizing the Risks of Synthetic DNA: Scientists' Views on the US Governments Guidance on Synthetic Genomics. American Association for the Advancement of Science workshop. See http://bit.ly/98o0kO
The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues http://bit.ly/dys4rs
For a taste of the iGEM competition, please consult the following video: http://bit.ly/9mqOIG
The iGEM competition tests the idea that biological engineering can be performed more reproducibly through the use of standardized parts. iGEM hopes to discover creative new approaches to designing and building engineered biological systems while encouraging the development of collaborations and sharing of information and experiences. For more information, please visit 2010.igem.org
The Virginia Bioinformatics Institute (http://www.vbi.vt.edu) at Virginia Tech is a premier bioinformatics, computational biology, and systems biology research facility that uses transdisciplinary approaches to science combining information technology, biology, and medicine. These approaches are used to interpret and apply vast amounts of biological data generated from basic research to some of today's key challenges in the biomedical, environmental, and agricultural sciences. With more than 240 highly trained multidisciplinary, international personnel, research at the institute involves collaboration in diverse disciplines such as mathematics, computer science, biology, plant pathology, biochemistry, systems biology, statistics, economics, synthetic biology, and medicine. The large amounts of data generated by this approach are analyzed and interpreted to create new knowledge that is disseminated to the world's scientific, governmental, and wider communities.
Barry Whyte | EurekAlert!
The balancing act: An enzyme that links endocytosis to membrane recycling
07.12.2016 | National Centre for Biological Sciences
Transforming plant cells from generalists to specialists
07.12.2016 | Duke University
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine
07.12.2016 | Life Sciences
07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine