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Safeguarding DNA Synthesis

9 May 2024 10:04 AM | Anonymous

DNA can be created in a laboratory environment. In fact, there is a business in creating and selling artificially-created DNA. Of course, there are also security concerns. If this technology falls into the wrong hands, all sorts of bad things could happen.

One company is now offering a service to double-check synthesized DNA. SecureDNA is a new company based in Switzerland that offers a "free, cryptographically secure, and verifiably up-to-date system to screen all DNA synthesis for potential hazards."

Here is some information about the services that SecureDNA offers as copied from the company's web site:

"We offer fast, free synthesis screening you can trust.

"SecureDNA was designed to screen all oligo and gene synthesis orders against an up-to-date list of known and emerging hazards, including pre-generated functional variants.

"Universal - fast, free, and available to all. Non-profit and free to use, thanks to several generous donations and our efficient exact-match algorithm.

"The SecureDNA team is composed of academic life scientists and cryptographers, policy analysts, information security specialists, and software engineers from many nations. They came together in 2019 to build a system capable of secure and universal DNA synthesis screening that would be suitable for stepwise or complete implementation by industry stakeholders.

"We are grateful for support from the Open Philanthropy Project to team members at MIT, Aarhus University, and Northeastern University, and to an anonymous Chinese philanthropist for a donation to team members at Tsinghua University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

"We expect new U.S. regulation to mandate rigorous DNA synthesis screening, alongside potential regulation elsewhere.

"An engineered pandemic could be far worse than COVID-19. Rigorous screening protects humanity against this risk.

"The SecureDNA system uses a novel exact-match search algorithm that finds matches to hazards and functional equivalents. It does this by generating the set of all hazard subsequences of a predefined length, choosing some to defend quasi-randomly, then using algorithms to generate millions of functionally equivalent subsequences of each. These are subjected to reverse screening by comparing them to existing sequence databases in order to remove any that match known non-hazardous entries.

"The reverse screening step virtually eliminates false positives, the inclusion of quasi-random functional variants prevents adversaries from redesigning or mutating the hazard to evade screening, and searching for 30 base pair subsequences makes it very difficult to assemble hazards from oligonucleotides that are too small to be screened using other methods.

"Because exact-match screening is computationally efficient, we can apply oblivious multi-party cryptography to protect the confidentiality of both orders and the hazard database. Using this scheme, each possible subsequence of an order to be screened is turned into a unique cryptographic hash, and each such hash is then looked up in the database of hazards.

"This hash requires multiple separate machines to compute, meaning that even an attacker who could eavesdrop on network traffic or compromise a subset of computers in the screening system could not learn the plaintext of a customer order, and not even SecureDNA itself ever receives the customer’s DNA sequences—they remain safely on-premises at a provider or within the hardware of a benchtop synthesizer.

"Screening for hazardous DNA sequences is provided as a free service by the SecureDNA Foundation, an independent nonprofit foundation in the sense of Article 80 et seqq. Swiss Civil Code with legal seat in Zug, Switzerland. The purpose of the Foundation is to develop, maintain, administrate, distribute, and encourage the universal adoption of software for screening nucleic acid sequences. The Foundation may support any action intended to prevent nucleic acids from being used to cause harm."

"COVID-19 took over 20 million lives. That's over 10x more than if a nuclear warhead detonated in a major city. And future pandemics could be far worse.

"Custom DNA is essential to biotechnology - and a healthy, sustainable future. But in the wrong hands, it could do great harm. Only authorized researchers should be able to obtain DNA permitting them to assemble pandemic-capable agents.

"SecureDNA is a free, non-profit screening platform designed to safeguard DNA synthesis everywhere."

You can learn a lot more on the SecureDNA web site at:

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