The promise and perils of synthetic biology are being grossly exaggerated, leading to fuzzy thinking about the technology's ethical implications. Contrary to the fawning and fainting media coverage, the creation of computer-generated chromosomes is an incremental advance that poses no unique safety, environmental or ethical issues beyond those debated and agreed at Asilomar in 1975.

The proximate cause of all the hoohah is a report published in Science in which a team led by Craig Venter described the painstaking assembly and deployment of an artificial genome for the primitive bacterium Mycoplasma mycoides. The work builds on rapid advances in DNA sequencing and synthesis technology, as well as on years of prior experience by Venter's team and other groups with large-scale gene-splicing methods.