California lawmakers on Thursday will vote on a bill that would require the state’s growing gene synthesis industry to adopt screening protocols to keep dangerous DNA out of the hands of the wrong people. The proposed legislation would be the first in the nation to tackle the biosecurity risks that accompany cheap and easy DNA writing technologies.
Scientists have been making synthetic genes for decades. The process involves moving minute amounts of liquid back and forth to add the right sugary building blocks — A, T, C, and G — in the right order. More recently, several companies have figured out ways to do this at scale — producing tens of thousands of custom-built genes every day, ready to ship off to academics experimenting with things like gene editing and pharmaceutical companies developing cell and gene therapies. When SARS-CoV-2 emerged, scientists around the world raced to synthesize pieces of the virus for use in developing diagnostics, treatments, and vaccines from the first publicly posted genome sequence.