December 16, 2010
The Commission released its first report today. The report — a review of the emerging field of synthetic biology — issues 18 recommendations, including a call for coordinated federal oversight of scientists working in both large institutions and smaller settings. President Obama asked the Commission to study the implications of synthetic biology following the May 20 announcement by the J. Craig Venter Institute that it had inserted a laboratory-made genome into a bacterial cell, creating an organism not found in nature. In three public hearings held over the past five months in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and Atlanta, the Commission heard from more than three-dozen ethicists, scientists and others close to the issue and considered a range of possible actions the government could take to prevent problems that might occur in the future. "We comprehensively reviewed the developing field of synthetic biology to understand both its potential rewards and risks," said Dr. Amy Gutmann, the Commission Chair and President of the University of Pennsylvania. "We considered an array of approaches to regulation — from allowing unfettered freedom with minimal oversight and another to prohibiting experiments until they can be ruled completely safe beyond a reasonable doubt. We chose a middle course to maximize public benefits while also safeguarding against risks."