Public Release: 

Synthetic biology applications face unclear path to market

New report looks at confusion surrounding existing laws for companies and agencies

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars/Science and Technology Innovation Program

The pathway to market for new products utilizing synthetic biology can be difficult to navigate, posing a challenge for companies in their efforts to commercialize new ideas, while the novelty posed by some of these products can make it difficult for regulatory agencies to evaluate risks, according to a new report from the Synthetic Biology Project.

The report, The DNA of the U.S. Regulatory System: Are We Getting It Right for Synthetic Biology?, explores current government oversight of synthetic biology in the United States by examining the regulatory pathways of different products and applications. The case studies in the report include synthetic organisms, synthetic chemicals, biopesticides, biomining products, and genetically modified plants, which are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This regulatory environment can be particularly challenging for startups in the biotechnology space. While larger companies may have the resources to navigate the various laws, it can be difficult for smaller companies to know which agency to approach and even which laws may apply to particular applications.

"Based on this report, it appears the U.S. regulatory system may need its own genetic engineering," says Dr. Todd Kuiken, senior program associate with the Synthetic Biology Project. "The system is not flexible enough to address rapidly evolving technologies like synthetic biology. This could make it difficult for agencies to properly evaluate the potential risks of these products, as well making it difficult for products to move to the market."

"Our report demonstrates the regulatory complexity innovators face in seeking to commercialize their products," says Lynn Bergeson, lead author of the report and managing partner at Bergeson & Campbell PC. "The report offers some common-sense and easily implemented solutions to help federal agencies do their jobs more efficiently and offers suggestions for the regulated community to be more proactive in expanding the technological literacy of the agencies with jurisdictional oversight over their products."

Government agencies are currently examining how to update the United States' biotechnology regulatory system. The Environmental Protection Agency recently started a process to determine how to best address genetically modified algae, while the White House in July convened a process to evaluate and update the Coordinated Framework for Regulation of Biotechnology, the Reagan-era system for evaluating biotechnology products.

In addition to the full report, each case study is available individually. The full report and set of case studies can be found here:


About the Synthetic Biology Project

The Synthetic Biology Project is an initiative of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars supported by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The Project aims to foster informed public and policy discourse concerning the advancement of synthetic biology. For more information, visit:

About The Wilson Center

The Wilson Center provides a strictly nonpartisan space for the worlds of policymaking and scholarship to interact. By conducting relevant and timely research and promoting dialogue from all perspectives, it works to address the critical current and emerging challenges confronting the United States and the world. For more information, visit:

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