these experiments with the deliberate intent of creating harmful organisms, even though these experiments were not in fact performed with any harmful intent. To varying degrees, these experiments used traditional recombinant DNA techniques, although arguably some used techniques from synthetic biology when they employed synthesized DNA.

As in the previous category, ELSI concerns in this category appear to relate to both civilian and military applications of synthetic biology equally. Nonetheless, the notion of adversary threats based on synthetic biology is relevant to national security.

Impact of Classification

A recommendation of the President’s Commission was that the federal government should start to coordinate and oversee agency activities in synthetic biology.33 It called for no new oversight function at that time but rather recommended that the government stay abreast of any major advances in the field, especially those that offer potential benefits and risks to the public.

But the commission was not charged specifically with addressing the oversight of classified research in synthetic biology, should any such research be contemplated. (The committee does not know of classified research in synthetic biology, but it undertook its information-gathering efforts in an entirely unclassified environment.) Some of the issues that arise when research is classified include the degree of coordination that is feasible when there may be different levels of secrecy associated with the research, and how to establish effective oversight in these environments. Staying abreast of developments and the associated benefits and risks can also be difficult because the research, by definition, is shielded from public view.

ELSI concerns related to classification appear to relate primarily to military applications of synthetic biology.


The term “neuroscience” refers to the interdisciplinary study of the nervous system. The Society for Neuroscience describes neuroscience as

it cited new evidence “that understanding specific mutations may improve international surveillance and public health and safety.” See More recently, however, there has been a call to broaden the discussion about this type of gain-of-function experiments to include ethics. See Simon Wain-Hobson, “H5N1 Viral-Engineering Dangers Will Not Go Away,” Nature 495(7442):411, 2013.

33 See

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