Human Genome Project: Write

On May 10th, a group of scientists led by George Church met in a closed-door, invitation only session to discuss the possibility of synthesizing the human genome. The intent was to publish a proposal outlining the need for human genome synthesis. That perspective piece was recently published in Science, and now has its own website. Among the goals and applications for human genome synthesis are:

 

  • To drive demand for large-scale DNA synthesis, and thus lower costs
  • To understand basic biology by re-creating noncoding DNA regions
  • To construct specific genotypes to study disease
  • To construct artificial chromosomes with all-included developmental pathways (minimal human cells, anyone?)
  • For gene therapy applications: improve safety by removing viral and cancer susceptibility, etc.
  • To recoding human cells for safety and biocontainment in manufacturing
  • To create a homozygous “pan-human” reference genome for drug testing

Drew Endy was invited but chose not to attend, instead exposing the meeting to the public and co-authoring an opinion piece on the ethics of human genome synthesis with our own Laurie Zoloth. Concerns raised in their piece include:

  • The secrecy and lack of public dialog severely damage public trust
  • The individuals involved have a financial conflict of interest
  • A non-human model organism genome synthesis project can provide the same demand to fuel low-cost DNA synthesis
  • No ethical analysis has been undertaken
  • A large potential for unintended consequences, especially on funding for the entire field of synthetic biology

What do you think? Join the discussion below!

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One thought on “Human Genome Project: Write

  1. Looks like the Center of Excellence for Engineering Biology (the organization running HGP-Write) just released videos of all the talks/panels from the meeting (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GAuQ7Fs3WMU&list=PLHpV_30XFQ8R2Kpcc1pwwXsFnJOCQVndt&index=1).

    Interesting takeaways from the intro video: they really stressed wanting an open discussion as the reason for the media blackout, more so than the upcoming paper; and the ethics discussion they encouraged everyone to participate in was added last-minute (due to the backlash?) and actually took place during the lunch hour.

    I haven’t watched the ethics panel yet, but given that people who disagreed with how this project came about tended to reject the invitation to attend, I wonder how much someone’s attending this meeting already selects for a certain outlook on its ethics, and how meaningful/interesting the ethical discussion can really be with such a self-selected group.

    Liked by 1 person

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