The recent work by DeLoache, et al. on a synthetic opiate-precursor production pathway in yeast has generated a lot of scare stories in the media about people homebrewing heroin as easily as they would beer.

In connection with DeLoache and coworkers' research, the New York Times has claimed

Their DNA could be put on a watch list, as sequences for anthrax and smallpox are, so any attempt to buy them from DNA supply houses would raise flags.

I have never heard of such a watch list, and a thorough googling turned up nothing relevant save for the NYT article itself. Does this watch list exist?

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    $\begingroup$ I have heard about this before. But this is kind of pointless when you know how to handle and manipulate DNA. Besides that, it is not trivial to puzzle a virus together. $\endgroup$
    – Chris
    May 21, 2015 at 18:03
  • $\begingroup$ @chris But this is kind of pointless when you know how to handle and manipulate DNA. Yeah, that's my real question: how could such a list even work? How would it handle silent mutations? How would it handle SNPs, or other mutations easily fixed with PCR? Combinations of SNPs? $\endgroup$
    – tel
    May 21, 2015 at 18:08
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    $\begingroup$ i encountered same question. nowadays you can order very big piece of dna custom-made. some viruses are <10Kb so they are easily synthesized. anthrax is 5Mb and smallpox is around 180Kb, so those are hard to produce in vitro $\endgroup$ Jun 7, 2015 at 21:26
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    $\begingroup$ I guess the fear is not necessarily to have someone produce a viable virulent anthrax from a DNA sample, but to have them introduce virulence factors of those watched pathogens into previously harmless organisms they could easily buy and grow. $\endgroup$
    – skymningen
    Jun 8, 2015 at 7:23
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    $\begingroup$ @aandreev I think they do. You could always get the smallpox sequence and submit it to genscript for synthesis. If the FBI comes knocking on your door, let us know before they send you to gitmo. $\endgroup$
    – user137
    Jun 8, 2015 at 19:37

1 Answer 1


I don't know how generally such things are followed, but in at least one contract gene synthesis provider's FAQ, they address this issue, and mention two such government-provided resources:

Q: Does GENEWIZ have a procedure in place to address potential biosecurity concerns for gene synthesis projects?

GENEWIZ is fully aware of all risks and benefits associated with gene synthesis research. With the knowledge that gene synthesis technologies have the ability to enable de novo reconstruction of dangerous pathogens, GENEWIZ employs rigorous quality control policies and procedures to safeguard against abuse of the genes we synthesize. GENEWIZ actively monitors the Screening Framework Guidance for Synthetic Double-Stranded DNA Providers [link], drafted by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as well as the Select Agents and Toxins list put forth by the U.S. Government.


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