Science Policy For All

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Science Policy Around the Web – May 29, 2018

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By: Cindo O. Nicholson, Ph.D.

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source: pixabay

Biohacking

As D.I.Y. gene editing gains popularity, ‘Someone is going to get hurt’

The tools to delve into gene editing and engineering as a hobby has become more accessible to the public. This can be attributed to the necessary equipment becoming cheaper and the widely-shared expertise in molecular biology techniques like polymerase chain reactions (PCR), DNA restriction mapping, and the new craze CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing. All of this has resulted in the growth of a Biohacking community, i.e. a community of citizen scientists with a shared interest in do-it-yourself genetic engineering projects.

Though members of the Biohacking community share the belief that there should be open-access to genetic engineering technology, there are those that believe that there is the potential for something catastrophic to occur. The biggest fear is that someone will develop and unleash a fast-spreading, rapidly-mutating, and lethal biological agent. The knowledge to make an infectious virus starting with DNA fragments that are pasted together have been published by the open-access journal PLOS One. However, it should be noted that the same knowledge could be used to engineer life-saving vaccines from synthesized DNA fragments instead of extracting and passaging infectious agents from infected tissue. Nevertheless, the question becomes how are U.S. authorities regulating the use of gene-editing technologies by individuals that are not federally funded?

There are currently multiple agencies responsible for regulating various types of research, and would be responsible for mandating the ethical use of gene-editing technologies by labs funded by their grants. However, not all scientific endeavors rely on government funding. In 2013 there was a public crowdfunding campaign through Kickstarter that raised almost half a million dollars for the engineering of a glowing plant. There have been instances of the F.B.I. reaching out to some “whitehat” biohacking labs and many of these biohacking labs have guidelines that must be adhered to by members or risk being kicked out. However, once kicked out an individual is still free to continue their activities on their own and in secret. With no real way to keep track of the unregulated use of synthetic biology, the U.S. and the world is vulnerable to those who would nefariously use these technologies.

(Emily Baumgaertner, The New York Times)

Food Science

As  lab grown meat advances the US calls for regulation

The regulation of lab-grown meat (also known as “clean meat”) is getting serious consideration by the U.S. House of Representatives. A draft spending bill from the House appropriations panel includes a statement instructing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to issue rules on the manufacturing and labeling of lab-grown meats. Lab-grown meat is made from cells taken from live animals like poultry or cattle that is grown into muscle tissue that can be pressed into burger patties or breaded to make nuggets. Advocates of lab-grown meat state that among its benefits are sparing the lives of animals, and its environmental friendliness since lab-grown meat does not generate greenhouse gases like methane and requires less land.

The impending arrival of these lab-grown meat on the market brings to the fore a few questions such as what actually counts as meat, and is it the responsibility of the USDA or is it the FDAs (Food & Drug Administration’s) for regulating these products. Lab-grown meats are made from the cells of animals and as such are more similar to the cell-based products already regulated by the FDA. In fact, inspecting the cell culture facilities where lab-grown meat is made would lie in the realm of expertise of FDA inspectors. By contrast, USDA inspectors are more familiar with inspecting animal slaughter houses.

Some argue that the proposal for the USDA to regulate cellular agriculture is premature because of insufficient knowledge on the strengths and weaknesses of this method of food production. Others believe that using a spending bill to mandate agencies to come up with new regulations is wrong, especially without input from the small businesses that will be regulated.

This debate about who should, and how to regulate the marketing of lab-grown meats is another example of regulation lagging behind innovation. Why is this frequently the case? The first lab grown beef patty to be taste-tested was in 2013, which means there was at least 5 years to preemptively brainstorm how to regulate, decide which federal agency is best suited to issue rules, and come up with language necessary for a proposal.

(Kelly Servick, Science Magazine News)

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

May 29, 2018 at 11:11 am

Posted in Linkposts

Tagged with , , , , ,

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