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Mail-Order Molecules Brew a Terrorism Debate; Virus Created in Lab Raises Questions of Scrutiny for DNA Suppliers
[FINAL Edition]
The Washington Post - Washington, D.C.
Subjects: Biotechnology; Viruses; Molecules; Mail order; Deoxyribonucleic acid; DNA; Biological & chemical terrorism
Author: Weiss, Rick
Date: Jul 17, 2002
Start Page: A.01
Section: A SECTION

Each oligo typically consists of about 25 or 30 units of DNA, representing a tiny fraction of an organism's entire genome (a full viral genetic code can be tens of thousands of units long or more). Scientists generally use the oligos as molecular tools to help them find genes in various organisms or to trigger biological chain reactions that allow them to mass produce DNA strands in test tubes.

DNA exports are more strictly regulated, with the Commerce Department requiring licenses for overseas shipments of DNA deemed a threat to national security. But those rules are open to interpretation and are easily flouted, scientists inside and outside the government said.

In any case, scientists said, rules that focus on "pathogenic" DNA sequences are meaningless in an era when manufacturers can make pieces of DNA that are individually benign yet can pose a serious threat if properly assembled.

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