Scientists Hold Top Secret Meeting to Develop Synthetic Human Genomes

Patti MayonnaiseMay 17, 2016912 Views
Photo Courtesy of IFLscience.com Photo Courtesy of IFLscience.com

The more than 100 scientists, researchers and lawyers who assembled in secret at Boston’s Harvard Medical School last week were advised not to speak with the media or even update social media accounts during the event. The meeting’s enigmatic secrecy has led many to speculate on the potential for nefarious intent, as they were set to discuss an already controversial subject. Journalists were reportedly excluded from the meeting regarding the creation of synthetic human genomes.

This has caused great suspicion among media outlets as well as the science community in general. As a key event organizer, Dr. George Church told the New York Times that the secrecy was necessary due to the agenda to discuss a paper which had only just been submitted to a journal and not yet reviewed. He claims, “They’re painting a picture which I don’t think represents the project.”

 

Image via GeneticLiteracyProject.org

Image via GeneticLiteracyProject.org

 

However, most find Dr. Church’s response lacking as it’s standard practice for journalists and reporters to gain access to scientific papers prior to release. It becomes all the more mysterious when the public factors in their abrupt change of name for the meeting. Previously called “HGP2: The Human Genome Synthesis Project,” it was aimed to “synthesize a complete human genome in a cell line within a period of 10 years.” Strangely, when the meeting actually came, its name had been changed to just “HGP – Write: Testing Large Synthetic Genomes in Cells.”

 

Photo Credit: HNGN.com

Photo Credit: HNGN.com

 

HGP is a reference to the Human Genome Project that was set up in 1990. HGP’s primary goal was to sequence 3 billion base pairs making up the DNA located in any human cell. Instead of reading the human genome though, this latest project has set out to write it. The project’s surrounding ethics are of the most complex magnitude making the umbrage of secrecy a necessary evil.

Along with other organizers, Dr. Church still maintains that this is a misrepresentation of their actual goals. He insists that the aim is not to create people, but merely cells. In fact, what they can do with these cells is said to have the potential to propel science forward creating long strands of synthetic DNA from everything (plants and animals to humans.) It still begs the question as to why they chose to rename the event and why so mysterious.

 

Image via RebootDaily.com

Image via RebootDaily.com

 

Though bacteria have already been successfully created with lab made DNA containing just 1 million base pairs, the science behind developing synthetic life is still elementary standing at a mere fraction of the 2 billion necessary for humans. Having a 10-year goal for achievement seems quite bold and frankly rather expensive with these facts considered. Regardless of the controversy possibly being a simple PR mishap or even a sinister cover-up, the meeting has opened up the debate concerning ethics and morals for such experimentations.

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