Secret meeting of 150 top scientists considers creating synthetic human genome within a decade as experts warn technology could lead to an 'arms race'
- 150 people met to discuss the idea of creating synthetic human genome
- This means using chemicals to build all of DNA found in chromosomes
- Project's organizers say this would mainly aim to improve DNA synthesis
- But, some argue that implications are too great to be discussed in secret
Earlier this week, roughly 150 scientists, lawyers, and entrepreneurs met in secrecy to discuss the possibility of creating an entirely synthetic human genome.
This means scientists would chemically recreate the genetic material that’s naturally passed from parents to children.
While this could mean major advancements for biological science and public health, some experts have raised concerns over the ethics of the idea, and say something so significant should not be discussed behind closed doors.
Earlier this week, roughly 150 scientists, lawyers, and entrepreneurs met in secrecy to discuss the possibility of creating an entirely synthetic human genome. This means scientists would recreate the genetic material that’s naturally passed from parents to children. In the stock image above, a scientist views DNA sequencing
DEMAND FOR THE HUMAN GENOME
The invite-only meeting was held at Harvard Medical School in Boston on Tuesday, the New York Times reports, and attendees were told not to contact the media or tweet about it.
Called HGP-Write: Testing Large Synthetic Genomes in Cells, the project aims to ‘synthesize a complete human genome in a cell line within a period of ten years.’
Organizers included George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, Jef Boeke, director of the institute for systems genetics at NYU Langone Medical Center, Andrew Hessel, a ‘futurist’ in the bio/nano research group at Autodesk, and Nancy J. Kelley.
In an interview with NYT, Dr. Church explained that the project, which is not yet funded, mainly aims to improve the ability to synthesize long strands of DNA, for use in animals, plants, and microbes.
Scientists are currently able to manipulate the DNA in cells for various purposes, including the manufacturing of insulin for diabetes.
Synthesizing the entire genome would allow for much more significant changes.
But, some aspects of the concept have already been met with criticism.
In an essay published to Cosmos, Drew Endy, an associate professor of Bioengineering at Stanford University, and Laurie Zoloth, a professor of medical ethics and humanities at Northwestern University, Chicago, explain that synthesizing the human genome is an ‘enormous moral gesture.’
If the synthetic genome was created, it would be tested in the lab by implanting it in a human cell in place of the existing one.
While this doesn’t mean they’d be able to create a synthetic human at that point, the researchers question what could be done if scientists were able to change the human genome.
‘For example, could scientists synthesise a modified human genome that is resistant to all natural viruses?’ they write.
‘They likely could, for purely beneficial purposes, but what if others then sought to synthesise modified viruses that overcame such resistance? Might doing so start a genome-engineering arms race?
While this could mean major advancements for biological science and public health, some experts have raised concerns over the ethics of the idea, and say something so significant should not be discussed behind closed doors. A stock image of human DNA is pictured
And, what of even greater changes that can be imagined?’
The authors also argue the example that scientists could then synthesize the genome of specific people, like Einstein, and ask how many genomes should be made, and who would get to make them.
As synthesizing the human genome would have huge implications for science, the researchers argue that discussions regarding the concept should be ‘pluralistic, public, and deliberative.’
They also argue that advocates of this concept are presenting a challenge to scientists in order to drive demand, and reduce the cost of printing DNA fragments.
Currently, it would cost $90 million to build the human genome, which is made up of three billion base pairs.
With the right demand, they say this could drop to just $100,000.
But, the authors suggest that the human genome may not be an appropriate ‘demand driver,’ and argue that researchers should instead be working to synthesize more immediately useful genomes.
Along with this, they say it would be necessary to include the advice of a diverse set of perspectives, from lawyers and regulators, to theologians, philosophers, and ethicists.
‘The creation of new human life is one of the last human-associated processes that has not yet been industrialised or fully commoditized,’ Endy and Zoloth write.
‘It remains an act of faith, joy, and hope. Discussions to synthesize, for the first time, a human genome should not occur in closed rooms.’
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3589785/Secret-meeting-150-scientists-considers-creating-synthetic-human-genome-decade-experts-warn-technology-lead-arms-race.html#ixzz48dVawb9y
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook