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5 Years Away: Ethical Debate Heats Up as Scientists Work on Creating Synthetic Human DNA

May 03, 2017 06:08 AM EDT
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The controversial Genome Project-write (GP-write) could be few years away.

Jef Boeke, director of the Institute for Systems Genetics at the NYU School of Medicine, told CNBC that incorporating synthesized DNA into mammalian or even human cells could happen in four to five years. He also revealed that preliminary experiments are already underway, and they are currently working on reaching their goal of raising $100 million this year to support the project.

Daily Mail reported that the project could lead to easily coming up with organs for transplant and developing immunity to viruses. However, it has been questioned due to the speculation that it may lead to creating "designer babies," a term people use to describe embryos that are genetically modified.

Science Alert reported that last May, more than 100 experts in genetics and bioengineering convened at Harvard Medical School for a closed-door meeting about the genome project. The secret meeting was criticized by ethicists, citing that discussion concerning humanity should not be discoursed in private. The group later on published a paper in Science, explaining the direction of the project and released a white paper outlining GP-write's timeline and goals.

In another step to make the project more open to the public, Boeke shared that an open discussion will be held this coming May 9 to 10 in New York. The agenda will include discussing the roadmap of the genome project, including ethical, social and legal engagement.

"I think articulation of our plan not to start right off synthesizing a full human genome tomorrow was helpful. We have a four- to five-year period where there can be plenty of time for debate about the wisdom of that, whether resources should be put in that direction or in another," Boeke said. "Whenever it's human, everyone has an opinion and wants their voice to be heard. We want to hear what people have to say."

The GP-write, which is focused on synthesizing human genomes, is reported to be the follow-up to the successful Human Genome Project (HGP), an international scientific research project which aimed to completely map and understand human genes. It took scientists 13 years and $3 billion to complete the human genome project.

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