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DNA: Supply of Pathogenic Sequences

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 4 July 2006

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to ensure that suppliers of oligonucleotides are required to screen and report orders for pathogenic DNA sequences. [HL6484]

There are no specific regulations that govern the sale, supply, or purchase of DNA sequences. The potential chemical hazards associated with the sequence itself would be covered by the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended). If DNA sequences were to be used to create a biological agent, the Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) Regulations 2000 (as amended) are likely to apply. These provide for a high level of protection for human health and the environment (including animal and plant health). In addition, the Specified Animal Pathogens Order 1998 (SAPO), administered by Defra, regulates possession of nucleic acid derived from any animal pathogen specified under SAPO. In all cases the relevant containment and operating requirements laid down by HSE/Defra would need to be met.

Provisions in the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 place an obligation on managers of laboratories and other premises holding specified pathogens or toxins to notify the authorities and to comply with the security requirements which the police may impose.

There is a wide range of legitimate uses to which DNA sequences may be put and the imposition of onerous controls could discourage valuable scientific research and industry use. The Government do not believe that it is necessary to require suppliers of DNA sequences to be licensed or for them to screen customers or check the intended use of the sequences. But we will continue to monitor the situation as the relevant technologies develop.