Engineering Safe and Efficient Genome Editing Technologies

Wegrzyn, R., DARPA
Genome editing technologies provide the unprecedented ability to modify genetic material in a manner that is targeted, rapid, adaptable, and broadly accessible. While the potential for societal benefit from these technologies is immense, longer-term ramifications, such as the potential for these tools to impact large populations of organisms and ecosystems over many generations, must also be considered. Traditional biosafety and biosecurity measures including physical biocontainment, research moratoria, self-governance, and regulation are not designed for technologies that are, in fact, explicitly intended for environmental release and are widely available to users who operate outside of conventional institutions. DARPA created the Safe Genes program to gain a fundamental understanding of how gene editing technologies function; devise means to safely, responsibly, and predictably harness them for beneficial ends; and address potential health and security concerns related to their accidental or intentional misuse. The goal of Safe Genes is to build in biosafety for new biotechnologies at their inception, provide a range of options to respond to synthetic genetic threats, and create an understanding of what is possible, probable, and vulnerable with regard to emergent gene editing technologies. Current and future research priorities supporting safe and secure genome editing technologies will be discussed.