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Nominations Sought for Synthetic Biology National Academies Committee

Synthetic Biology Research

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is seeking nominations for a new consensus study being conducted at the request of the Department of Defense: “Strategies for Identifying and Addressing Vulnerabilities Posed by Synthetic Biology”.

To assist the U.S. Department of Defense’s Chemical and Biological Defense Program (CBDP), NASEM will appoint an ad hoc committee to address the changing nature of the biodefense threat in the age of synthetic biology.

Committee Charge

The focus of the study will be the manipulation of biological functions, systems, or microorganisms resulting in the production of a disease-causing agents or toxins. The study will be conducted in two primary phases. Initially, the committee will develop a strategic framework to guide an assessment of the potential security vulnerabilities related to advances in biology and biotechnology, with a particular emphasis on synthetic biology.

The framework will focus on how to address the following three questions:

  • What are the possible security concerns with regard to synthetic biology that are on the horizon?
  • What are the time frames of development of these concerns?
  • What are our options for mitigating these potential concerns?

The committee will publish a brief interim, public report outlining the developed framework. This framework will not be a threat assessment, but rather, will focus on ways to identify scientific developments to enable opportunities that have the potential to mitigate threats posed by synthetic biology in the near-, mid-, and long-term, with the specific time frames defined by the committee. The framework will lay out how best to consider the trajectory of scientific advances, identify potential areas of vulnerability and predict promising mitigation opportunities.

In Phase 2 of the study, the committee will use the outlined strategic framework to generate an assessment of vulnerabilities posed by synthetic biology. Inputs to this assessment may include information about the current threat, current program priorities and research, and an evaluation of the current landscape of science and technology. Conclusions and recommendations will include a list and description of vulnerabilities posed by synthetic biology and prioritized options to address them.

The committee will meet approximately 8 times between January 2017 and May 2018, with most meetings taking place in Washington, DC.

Expertise Needed

An ad hoc committee of 10-12 experts will be assembled to include individuals with expertise in synthetic biology, microbiology, chemical engineering, biosecurity, technical forecasting, genetic engineering, molecular biology, chemistry, threat assessment, threat characterization, research planning, modeling, data analytics, biotechnology, biodefense, bioinformatics, and biodesign software.

To make a nomination, please send the person’s name, affiliation, contact information if you have it, area of expertise, and a sentence or two on why the person is relevant to the study topic.

It is not necessary to ascertain your nominees’ willingness to serve before making nominations. Federal employees currently working on synthetic biology-related policies and/or directing funding programs in this area are not eligible for the committee.  Committee members will need to meet eligibility requirements associated with access to sensitive information.

Having the appropriate membership is central to the success of every activity at the Academies, so we appreciate your help in this committee nominations process.  Please keep in mind, however, that it is not uncommon to receive 100 or more nominations for a slate of ~15 candidates and the final decision about committee membership rests with the leadership of the Academies.  In developing a slate, care is given to ensuring that the committee includes appropriate expertise and is balanced and free from conflicts of interest.

Direct your nominations to SynBioDefense@nas.edu or you can submit them online. Please submit your nominations no later than Monday, October 3, 2016.

Article adapted from announcement courtesy of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

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