order online: bits of deadly virii

The Guardian reports they ordered a chunk of the smallpox virus DNA sequence online from a molecular biology supply company. It's not as dire as it might sound: you gotta have graduate-level expertise and more than a kitchen sink to recombine DNA sequences. What was interesting was that there is no across-the-board screening of all material sent out. The company that provided the DNA don't screen sequence below 100 bp against a database of potentially harmful organisms, and there's no standard regulations about the screening process. The Guardian ordered their sequence with a couple stop codons added to comply with safety and legal regulations, but it will be interesting to see if there are any developments from this, and also, how the rest of the media picks up on it.

ETA 15/7: Nature discusses the article and frowns upon the Guardian, highlighting that ordering bits of DNA is routine for the research community even though it might shock the general public, and pretty much disapproves of such a "stunt". I still think the attention it draws to the inconsistencies in the regulatory process is the interesting point. And also? Of course Gn. Public might be suprised by what you can buy over the internet–there's no need to flash your boffin-club badge about it and act all jaded, Nature Editors.


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