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When does a scientific conference warrant the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security? When the topic is synthetic biology.

Both of those federal agencies turned out on May 1 to monitor the proceedings here at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — and a representative from the F.B.I. even spoke. Their attendance, as well as a lively discussion about the science and ethics of synthetic biology, sheds light on how much attention is being focused on this rapidly advancing field of science.

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