CLAIM: DNA synthesis has become cheaper and can be out-sourced, and this will make it easier for terrorists to create biological threat agents.

The most commonly cited articles on this topic are often misunderstood. An often cited article detailing an attempt to synthetically engineer a airborne version of the H1N1 flu actually was trying to see if natural mutations could make this new form of the virus (11). Jefferson et. al. also point to results of years of Soviet research trying to develop bioweapon strains of bacteria and viruses that show how difficult it is to engineer desired traits while maintaining other desired traits. According to Jefferson et. al. the Soviet researchers struggled to improve the strain across the board. Increases in one desired trait often meant decreases in another. For this reason, it would be difficult for someone to use synthetic biology to engineer a new pathogen from scratch.

Though DNA synthesis has become cheaper, it is still a very error-prone process when you synthesize oligos longer than ~3000bps. Also, commercial synthesis companies still can't easily synthesize any sequence desired. Moreover, DNA synthesis would merely be the first step in an incredibly difficult process to engineer a bioweapon. This process would require “expertise, experience, and equipment” that would-be terrorists would likely lack access to (11). ​


CLAIM: Synthetic biology could be used to design dangerous, radically new pathogens. So-called “bioterrorists” will be able to engineer their own weapons that cannot be predicted or prevented.

Security Issues

Of great concern in the science community is the potential for organisms modified by Synthetic Biology to be misused for deleterious purposes. Here we discuss the safety and regulation of potentially dangerous biological components.

CLAIM: Synthetic biology is de-skilling biology and making it easier for terrorists to exploit advances in the biosciences;

While lots of biological information is publicly available, it still takes considerable technical knowhow to make use of it. Successful synthetic bioengineering relies on “tacit knowledge” that can only be gained through experience in institutional laboratories. This makes it very difficult for a layman to take advantage of the wealth of public biological information to make a bioweapon (11). ​

Ultimately, no. Marris et al. (2014) found that the capability for synthetic biology practices and experiments to be done as an individual are “overstated" (11). The equipment and materials required for synthetic or altered organisms are both sophisticated and controlled. It takes more than a clean garage and some chemicals to alter bacterial DNA.

    Furthermore, institutions involved in just about any form of biological research follow a strict code of ethics, at risk of losing their funding if they don’t.



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CLAIM: Synthetic biology has led to the growth of a DIY biology community, which could offer dual-use knowledge, tools, and equipment for bioterrorists seeking to do harm.

In “Synthetic Biology and Biosecurity: Challenging the ‘Myths’,” Jefferson et. al. explain that “the link between synthetic biology and DIYbio, and the level of sophistication of the experiments typically being performed in DIYbio community labs, is overstated.” A significant level of biological and laboratory training is required for most synthetic biology experiments, not to mention highly specialized equipment. Additionally, DIYbio labs are making an effort to promote responsibility in their communities, by requiring safety training, drafting a code of ethics, and providing ethics and safety resources (11).