Data and Analytics, Detection and Diagnostics, Meeting Summaries

Capabilities and Problems Associated with Detecting Engineered Microorganisms & Deducing Function

In-Q-Tel, Inc.

Background – This paper reports on a September 15, 2016 Roundtable Discussion convened by B.Next, an IQT Lab. The purpose of the discussion was to explore whether and how a biological sample containing microorganisms could be examined using current techniques and procedures to answer two questions:

  1. Is the sample likely to have been subject to genetic manipulation?
  2. If the sample was engineered, is it possible to determine the intended and actual functionality of the genetic manipulation?

It was assumed that national security imperatives would impose some urgency on the need for information, so that the time required for different approaches is of concern. It was also recognized that the sample material available for examination might be limited and possibly irreplaceable. The source and type of biological sample at issue was not defined. Both clinical samples (presumably collected in the wake of an attack) and other types of collected samples, including complex, “metagenomic” samples (e.g. environmental effluents) were considered.

The Roundtable included twenty-six participants, including scientists from academia, seven US Government agencies and the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, representatives from private sector companies engaged in DNA sequencing and bioinformatics, and IQT professional staff. The group’s expertise included bioinformatics, genetic engineering, computer science, microbiology, and biotechnology. The discussion took place over a single day, included invited presentations from three participants, and was held on a not-for-attribution basis.

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