Enabling Technologies, Synthetic Biology

Enabling technologies, such as synthetic biology, present novel risks and ethical dilemmas while simultaneously offering transformational benefits to health, safety, defense, and the economy. Gryphon conducts science-based analyses of the risks and benefits of enabling biotechnologies. Our goals are to strengthen preparedness and response and to inform the development of policies to prevent the accidental or deliberate misuse of these powerful technologies while not impeding their continued development.



Measuring the Enabling Potential of Synthetic Biology

Gryphon comprehensively assessed the enabling potential of synthetic biology (synbio) compared to existing methods. One part of our analysis examined the feasibility and advantages of a hostile actor using synbio to obtain or modify biological agents. This analysis resulted in recommendations to strengthen existing biodefense policies. Another part was designed to inform biodefense investments by identifying promising biodefense applications of synbio, including the development of new diagnostics and medical countermeasures.

Assessing the Technical Capabilities of Genome-Editing Technologies

Gryphon examined the technical capabilities of genome-editing tools (GET) to determine whether these technologies enable new biological threats previously not possible. Using scenarios, we compared GET and traditional genetic engineering methodologies for achieving notional, technically robust end-states. We developed a risk analysis framework that incorporated design and development into the bioweapons acquisition pathway, actor attributes, and considerations of delivery.

Analyzing the Use of Synthetic Biology to Produce Illicit Drugs

Synthetic biology has been used to engineer microbes to produce chemicals, including recent advances toward producing controlled pharmaceutical drugs. Gryphon analyzed whether and how criminal organizations might misuse synthetic biology to establish large-scale microbial production of illicit drugs. We also developed policy recommendations to mitigate this outcome.