Howard Simon DNA2.0

Good morning. I am the token capitalist in the room. I am going to speak a little bit about a meeting that was held last March, which was a great meeting. I think there are a half dozen people here who went to this meeting. Just so you could raise your hands so folks could know who you are. I don't see Tomas. Anyway, so, if you want to ask further questions about these meetings in the break, we have some folks here who were there.

The meeting was held in March, and the sponsor was the International Council for the Life Sciences out of the UK, which was tremendously helpful in convening a very wide array of people involved in syntheticc biology and security issues. It was funded by the Sloan Foundation, FBI and UK. What was critical about it was the attendees- both commercial and government people. It was the first meeting that pulled together all the constituents including the citizen scientists, it was the first time we had everyone around the table.

The purpose was around biosecurity and screening issues. Let me take one step back on this. As you probably know, the US Dept of Health/Services has developed a protocol for screening matter and recipients of matter for the industry to use. It has become not mandatory, it's not a mandatory regime, it's a voluntary regime. The key players on the commercail side- the 5 companies responsible for 80% of the synthetic biology products that are sold, have all signed on. That group has also created the International IGSC, which is the something for Synthetic Biology. And we got our own screening.

So, at the meeting, the intent was to take these voluntary codes and try to .. both globally and throughout sectors working in synthetic biology. The idea is that if we can get voluntary compliance across the board, we reduce the risk that people who want these bad things will get them. With individual citizen scientists, companies and others represented, we were able to bring that conversation to the front.

Among the ideas that was discussed was making a whitelist to go along with the blacklist. So, labs would have a tracklist of things that is pre-approved. The idea was to create a level of trust that would prove what their motives is, to reduce the beauracratic risk and so on.

Heidelberg Biosecurity Meeting was the first time we had this opportunity to brng these people together. This was the first time we had the synthetic biology China people. A lot of the work is being done in China with relatively less oversight or control on biosecurity/biosafety issues, as compared to the US or UK. So having the Chinese around the table with us was really important and we're proud about that.

So the follow-up was that there are a number of issues discussed, like compound screening, recipient screening, and we created some taskforces that cut across the various sectors to try to come up with some workable solutions that find the right blend between biosecurity/biosafety, and scientific/academic freedom on the other. WE are going to continue the process in December in Hong Kong in December at the ICSBG conference.

Tomas was the representative from the citizen scientist community for this conference, and I am sure he would have lots to add if you would like to speak during the break.

The guidance that has been crafted in the US, that covers - that provides guidance for the providers to not only do screening of the requested sequence, but also the customer itself. Can you see an opportunity where, if the community, if the amateur biology community was interested in using this tech, could you see a way in which this type of audience could be integrated into this process that is generally held more to the research institutes and some of those larger entities?

There are some inherent problems with the way HHS interfaces with other entities in the government. For example, National Institutes of Health database which has a great list of compounds and sequences that are suspect, it's wonderful to do searches against it. But you're not allowed to do them during the business day because it puts too much pressure on their servers, so you're supposed to do that after hours. There are some inherent problems, but because this is a voluntary regime, there's nothing that would preclude or prohibit or impede amateur biology community from accessing the blacklist of recipients and the various lists, the agents list, the Australian list, of seuqences and combinations of matter that are suspect. There is no impedance and it's publicly accessible and we're a voluntary regime. In that sense, we all sit in the same relationship to this process.

Do you think there is an opportunity to tap that market? Do you think, in your opinion, there is a risk-reward situation where gene providers might have to go above and beyond, as far as legitimizing the customer, with regards to an order, and whether you feel like it's worth the business? Is there a tipping point where there is a potential for an emerging market, outside of them doing their own gene production themselves, to utilize such an effort for these types of companies to modify these processes to take in these audiences?

You know, I think it's responsible science. We know there are bad people out there that want to do bad stuff with biology. Maybe not. Maybe not that sophisticated. But it doesn't take that many. On a strictly personal note, I would consider it irresponsible to sell a potentially dangerous composition of matter to someone who you don't know or haven't met. It's just bad judgement. Most of the people on that list are either folks with a history of exclusion for various fraudalent activities, either domestically or internationally, or people who might potentially being terrorists kinda environment, or folks who have published in North Korea, or who have published work on bioterrorism stuff. Bonafide researchers in academic institutions are (aren't?) on the list. We've only had one circumstance where we had someone we chose not to sell to, and we referred to the FBI in 10 years of business. It's not a huge practical issue, but it doesn't take a lot of mistakes.

We have people actively working on making DNA synthesis a lot cheaper and more available, in 5 or 10 years, maybe it's 20x cheaper, and it starts falling.. does any of this matter? I don't know if Andrew Hessel is here today, no I guess not. Andrew believes that in 5 years we will have toaster-sized DNA synthesizers on our desks, but he also believes in personal jets, so whatever. Does this become decreasingly irrelevant? Yes, but not irrelevant. We still, again, just speaking personally, have an obligation as responsible scientists to know with who we share what we do. This comes back to the conventions in the 40s and 50s, when Einstein sat down and said, now that we have made the atomic bomb, we are responsible to know the fruits of our work.

I heard a rumor that the companies stood up and said that they don't hackerspaces. I have no knowledge at all. The question was asked if you guys would sell.. if you guys ordered with a DIY scientist, not affiliated with an academic lab, someone said- not DNA2.0- or IDT.. yeah, maybe it was IDT. I'm not remembering that because, if you are a bonafide science doing bonafide work. What does that mean? It means you're not on the exclusion list, and it means you're not a bad actor. It doesn't mean you have a faculty appointment. The IGSC - International Gene Synthesis Conference- is 5 companies with 80% of the market.

What happens if I got on this list for whatever reason? How do I get off it?

Is this also oligos or just genes? It's not necessarily oligos. Part of the problem too, I don't know if you're familiar with the US Congress Control LIst, That's by the department of congress that has to do with exporting materials and data from the US to another location. The congress control list identifies for example ecoli. It's 20 years out of date, the NIH db is more clear.