NPR

As Made-To-Order DNA Gets Cheaper, Keeping It Out Of The Wrong Hands Gets Harder

Labs are churning out more and more synthetic DNA for scientists who want to use it to reprogram cells. Some say the technology has outpaced government safety guidelines put in place a decade ago.
An employee of the Boston biotech company Ginkgo Bioworks runs a gene sequencing machine through its paces. The company synthesizes thousands of genes a month, which are then inserted into cells that become mini factories of useful products. Source: Tim Llewellyn/Copperhound Pictures

Patrick Boyle recalls that by the time he got his Ph.D. in biology in 2012, he had worked with just a few other people and managed to manufacture six genes, the basic units of heredity.

"Today, we are synthesizing more than 10,000 genes every month," he says, showing off a lab at a Boston biotech company called Ginkgo Bioworks.

Making genes from scratch used to be laborious and time consuming, but not anymore. That's why federal officials are now considering new measures to prevent this rapidly advancing technology from being misused to create dangerous viruses or bioweapons.

Genes are made up of , a "code" determined by four chemical bases — known as A,

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