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Safety and security resources

Responsible conduct of synthetic biology


Terry Johnson provides a perspective on the unique features of synthetic biology that require special consideration above and beyond traditional biotechnology. Terry discusses how technologies like gene sequencing, gene synthesis, computational design, and the internet are accelerating and converging to pose new challenges to responsible innovation. Video by Terry D. Johnson, UC Berkeley Bioengineering ( Based on slides by J. Christopher Anderson, UC Berkeley Bioengineering


Biological risk assessment


Terry Johnson provides an overview of the rules that govern academic research in biological engineering projects, like recombinant DNA research. Terry reviews Biosafety Level (BSL) categories, how we determine the risk of different kinds of projects, and some considerations individual researchers should have about their own work in the context of risk and dual-use concerns. Video by Terry D. Johnson, UC Berkeley Bioengineering ( Based on slides by J. Christopher Anderson, UC Berkeley Bioengineering.

Suggested reading and resources

Below is a list of some of our recommended readings related to safety and security in synthetic biology.


Do I understand what I can create? Biosafety issues in synthetic biology. Schmidt M. 2009. Chapter 6 in: Schmidt M. Kelle A. Ganguli A, de Vriend H. (Eds.) 2009. Synthetic Biology. The Technoscience and its Societal Consequences. Springer Academic Publishing

The Regulation of Synthetic Biology: A Guide to U.S. & European Union Regulations, Rules & Guidellines. Bar-Yam, S., Byers-Corbin, J., Casagrande, R., Eichler, F., Lin, A., Oesterreicher, M., Regardh, P., Turlington, R.D., Oye, K. (2012).

How safe is safe enough? Towards best practices of synthetic biology. (Community-authored report at

Biosafety considerations of synthetic biology in the international Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competitionGuan Z, Schmidt M, Pei L, Wei W, Ma K. (2013).  Bioscience. Vol. 63 (1):25-34

Diffusion of synthetic biology: a challenge to biosafety. Schmidt M. 2008. Systems and Synthetic Biology. Vol. 2(1-2):1-6

Safe and effective synthetic biology. David A. LaVan and Louis M. Marmon. Nat Biotechnol. 2010 October; 28(10): 1010–1012.

The Promise and Perils of Synthetic Biology. Tucker JB and Zilinskas RA. 2006. The New Atlantis. Spring 2006, p.25-45

iGEM Safety Program: A leading program to train new synthetic biology students how to design safety aspects into their projects.



Security Implications of Synthetic Biology and Nanobiotechnology by the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, 2011

Symposium on Opportunities and Challanges in the Emerging Field of Synthetic Biology by the OECD and Royal Society, May 2010

Technical solutions for biosecurity in synthetic biology by the Industry Association Synthetic Biology, 2008

Synthetic Biology: Social and Ethical Challenges by the Institute for Science and Society, May 2008

Synthetic Genomics: Options for Governance by the J Craig Venter Institute, CSIS and MIT, October 2007

iGEM Security Program: A primary effort to train synthetic biology students about the security aspects of synthetic biology.

Understanding Biosecurity. National Research Council. 

Laboratory biosecurity guidance. World Health Organization.

Responsible life sciences research for global health security. World Health Organization.