Last week, about 150 scientists gathered at the Harvard Medical Center to discuss the idea of creating synthetic human genome. All the attendees were clearly instructed not to post on Twitter or contact the news media about the meeting. Though the project is still in the idea stage, researchers explored the possibility of creating all the DNA in human chromosomes using chemicals.
The project raises ethical concerns
The project would allow them to use the synthetic genome to create human beings without biological parents. It has sparked a heated debate in the life sciences community. Organizers of the closed-door meeting said it would be a follow-up on the original Human Genome Project that was aimed at reading the three billion base pairs in human DNA. Instead of reading, the new project would involve writing or synthesizing all three billion base pairs using chemicals.
But the project has been denounced by some of the top scientists in the field due to ethical concerns. Stanford researcher Drew Endy and Northwestern University bioethicist Laurie Zoloth said in a statement that moral implications of the project are such that it shouldn’t be discussed in closed rooms. The project raises several questions. Could scientists construct human life from scratch with specific traits? Would it be OK to synthesize the genome of Albert Einstein?
Can they synthesize human genome within 10 years?
According to the New York Times, an invitation to the secret meeting said that the primary objective was to “synthesize a complete human genome in a cell line within a period of 10 years.” Harvard genetics professor and an organizer of the project, George Church said there was some misunderstanding. The aim of the synthetic human genome project was not to create humans, but only cells. And it will not be restricted to humans as it could be applied to various plants, animals, and other species, said Church.
Church said the meeting was closed to the news media because researchers had submitted a paper to a scientific journal. Discussing the idea publicly before the publication of the paper was out of question.