The Common Mechanism

An open-source, globally available tool for DNA synthesis screening


The international Common Mechanism will help providers of synthetic DNA and RNA effectively screen orders to prevent synthesis technology from being exploited.

DNA providers are not currently required by any country in the world to screen their orders, though some governments are considering new ways to incentivize this biosecurity best practice. While most DNA providers voluntarily screen their orders, too many do not, leaving significant gaps and vulnerabilities.

The Common Mechanism was developed in consultation with an international Technical Consortium–with experts from industry, the biosecurity community, and governments–and it will continue to evolve to provide an effective, up-to-date solution for broader international adoption of responsible screening practices.

The Common Mechanism is currently in open beta testing, and we invite interested users of the software to contact us to test it.

 

How it works


The Common Mechanism provides free, distributed, open-source, automated software for screening sequences of nucleic acids (including DNA and RNA), as well as resources to facilitate customer screening. The process for synthesis screening is shown below; the Common Mechanism provides resources to support each of these steps.



 

The Common Mechanism was designed to address a number of challenges that DNA providers face:

  • Developing and maintaining DNA synthesis screening tools is costly for many providers.

  • The price per base of synthesis is decreasing, and the volume of orders is increasing, which makes screening orders an increasingly difficult economic burden.

  • Sensitive intellectual property is embedded in the sequences ordered by customers, making it difficult to get outside help with screening.

  • Existing DNA synthesis screening tools and resources are not fully accessible to everyone, everywhere.

  • Benchtop DNA synthesis devices, which are becoming commercially available and which will decentralize the market for these services, will require more unambiguous and automated systems for flagging sequences in order to realize their benefit of faster turnaround time.


The Common Mechanism has been under development for several years in partnership with the international Technical Consortium for DNA Synthesis Screening, which was launched by the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) in partnership with the World Economic Forum in 2020. Discussions about technical specifications for the Common Mechanism began in 2020, initial databases and a screening algorithm were developed throughout 2021-2023, and beta testing commenced in late 2023.

Publications


A technical paper describing the screening algorithm, and additional resources to support customer screening, are forthcoming in 2024.

  • In Press. Overcoming Challenges to Developing a Common Global Baseline for Nucleic Acid Synthesis Screening. Nicole Wheeler, Sarah R. Carter, Tessa Alexanian, Christopher Isaac, Piers Millett, Jaime Yassif. Applied Biosafety.

  • February 2024. Verifying Legitimacy: Findings from the Customer Screening Working Group, 2020-2023. Tessa Alexanian, Sarah R. Carter. IBBIS White Paper. Available online as an IBBIS whitepaper.

  • May 2023. Benchtop DNA Synthesis Devices: Capabilities, Biosecurity Implications, and Governance. Sarah R. Carter, Jaime Yassif, Christopher Isaac, NTI | bio. Available online: https://www.nti.org/analysis/articles/benchtop-dna-synthesis-devices-capabilities-biosecurity-implications-and-governance/

  • January 2020. Biosecurity Innovation and Risk Reduction: A Global Framework for Accessible, Safe and Secure DNA Synthesis. Elizabeth Cameron, Sarah R. Carter, Jacob Jordan, and Ryan Morhard. Report of the NTI-WEF Working Group on Working Group on Preventing Illicit Gene Synthesis. Available online: https://www.weforum.org/publications/biosecurity-innovation-and-risk-reduction-a-global-framework-for-accessible-safe-and-secure-dna-synthesis-582d582cd4/

  • October 2018. Universal Platform to Prevent Illicit Gene Synthesis. Patrick Boyle and Ryan Morhard. NTI Biosecurity Innovation and Risk Reduction Initiative Paper 1. Available online: https://www.nti.org/analysis/articles/common-mechanism-prevent-illicit-gene-synthesis/

Now
Open beta testing of sequence screening software ― contact us to install!
2024
Release of sequence and customer screening tools
Future
An open-source globally-available baseline for synthesis screening