Center for Health Security applauds the introduction of 2 critical bills to protect health security from potential threats arising from advances in biotechnology
July 19, 2023 - The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security applauds congressional leaders in health security for their introduction of two pieces of legislation to strengthen security around emerging threats from advances in biotechnology—the bicameral Securing Gene Synthesis Act and the bicameral, bipartisan Artificial Intelligence and Biosecurity Risk Assessment Act.
Securing Gene Synthesis Act
Co-led by Representatives Anna G. Eshoo in the House and Senator Ed Markey in the Senate, the bicameral Securing Gene Synthesis Act reduces risks associated with do-it-yourself gene synthesis, whereby anyone can make viruses from scratch by ordering their genetic building blocks from gene synthesis companies and assembling them into whole pathogens. To prevent a custom virus from being built that evades regulation, the Securing Gene Synthesis Act:
- requires companies that sell gene synthesis products to screen customer orders for potential threats and to conduct know-your-customer due diligence; and
- requires federally funded entities and the federal government to only purchase from those companies that perform such screening and customer due diligence.
Center Director Dr. Tom Inglesby notes that the Securing Gene Synthesis Act “is a pivotal chance to both reduce the risks posed by gene synthesis while at the same time ensuring that responsible companies are not disadvantaged by doing the right thing. Many leading US gene synthesis companies already voluntarily screen orders and customers, but they now bear costs that other less responsible companies don’t have to carry. By making this screening a requirement, both for the companies that make these products and for the users of these products in the US, Congress can reduce the risks that dangerous viruses will be made from scratch and can strengthen the US economy in the process.”
Center Senior Scholar Dr. Gigi Gronvall, who last year testified in support of California’s recent gene synthesis screening bill, said the Securing Gene Synthesis Act is “tackling the issues surrounding gene synthesis security,” adding, “Responsible gene synthesis companies, including those in the US, have already been doing gene synthesis screening, so adding additional scrutiny for those companies that do not is a welcome step in the right direction.”
Artificial Intelligence and Biosecurity Risk Assessment Act
Co-led by Representatives Anna G. Eshoo and Dan Crenshaw in the House and Senators Ed Markey and Ted Budd in the Senate, the bipartisan and bicameral Artificial Intelligence and Biosecurity Risk Assessment Act requires the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR) to conduct risk assessments and implement strategic initiatives to address potential threats to public health and national security due to technical advancements in artificial intelligence or other emerging technology fields, including open source artificial intelligence and large language models.
“As we navigate the emerging landscape of technology and its impact on public health and national security, the introduction of the Artificial Intelligence and Biosecurity Risk Assessment Act marks a crucial step toward identifying and addressing major new risks,” said Dr. Inglesby. “By establishing a proactive approach to address novel threats stemming from artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies, the bill aims to ensure our nation remains at the forefront of innovation while prioritizing the safety of the public. I want to commend this legislation as a very important tool in the efforts to shape a secure and resilient future."
We commend Representatives Eshoo and Crenshaw and Senators Markey and Budd for their leadership and commitment to health security. The Center will continue to work with the congressional and executive staff at all levels of government, health organizations, and other stakeholders to support policies and initiatives that promote public health and protect our communities.
To learn more about the importance of mandatory gene synthesis screening, please visit the Center’s recommendations to the House and Senate regarding the governance of synthesized genes.