A group of 130 scientists and entrepreneurs met by invitation-only, and behind closed doors at Harvard Medical School, to discuss a ten-year project to create synthetic human genomes. The genome is the complete set of DNA containing the instructions needed for an organism to survive and thrive. The proposed project would use chemicals in the laboratory to create all the DNA in human chromosomes. If the project is successful, it could be a step toward human cloning.
Those who back the project think that a synthetic human genome could lead to important medical breakthroughs. Such bioengineering could make it possible to grow organs for transplant, speed up the development of vaccines, and create cancer resistance in new therapeutic cell lines. It also has the potential of creating children without biological parents.
Critics of the project are concerned that synthetic human genomes could be used to create designer babies—those infants with traits desired by parents, such as blue eyes—or even to create some kind of genetic super-race. However, the scientists explain that the project is not intended to create complete humans (clones); it is meant to create human cells only. They also say the research will not be restricted to humans but could be applied to various plants, animals, and other species.
The project is now in the idea stage. Founders want to attract companies, foundations, and government grants to participate in the project. Backers of the project hope to begin later this year after raising $100 million.