Scientists to launch 10-year project for creating human genomes

– A group of American-led scientists and entrepreneurs has announced the start of a 10-year project aimed at creating synthetic human genomes in a move that could revolutionize the field of biotechnology but raises troubling ethical concerns, AFP says.

The ambitious proposal could make it possible to grow human organs for transplant and speed up the development of vaccines, the project backers said in a paper published Thursday, June 2 in the journal Science.

But the idea has already sparked criticism due to the potential of one day creating children with no biological parents, and due to the secrecy surrounding a recent closed-door meeting on the subject.

Its proponents envision a project on the same scale as the Human Genome Project, which mapped and published the full, sequenced human genome in 2003 — or the 99.9 percent that we all have in common.

Dubbed “Human Genome Project-write” or “HGP-write” — since synthesizing would amount to “writing” rather than “reading” our genetic code — the project aims to reduce the cost of engineering DNA segments in the lab, AFP says.

The new goal would be “more ambitious and more focused on understanding the practical applications than the original Human Genome Project,” said George Church, a genetics professor at Harvard Medical School, and one of the 25 authors of the paper.

The project’s backers said they hoped to launch it this year after raising $100 million around the world from public, private, philanthropic and academic sources.

They did not provide an estimate for total costs, saying only that it would likely be less than the $3 billion for the Human Genome Project.