Three leading German research organizations have outlined how they think the country could play a major part in synthetic biology.

The DFG (which funds university research), the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the German Academy of Science and Engineering argue in a 27 July report that synthetic biology has great value to society — as long as the field's expansion is balanced with ethical debate.

Germany is particularly sensitive to ethical issues in the life sciences, partly because of previous Nazi abuses of bioscience. The report says that a national centre should be created to host a database of information about newly created stretches of DNA, and to assess their safety.

Ralf Wagner, chief executive of Geneart, a leading manufacturer of synthetic genes based in Regensburg, Germany, says he hopes the report will help create a positive environment for public debate.