A group of 25 scientists on Thursday proposed an ambitious project to create a synthetic human genome, or genetic blueprint, in an endeavor that is bound to raise concerns over the extent to which human life can or should be engineered. A synthetic human genome potentially could make it possible to create humans who lack biological parents - raising the specter, for instance, of made-to-order human beings with special genetic enhancements.
They said potential applications from a synthetic human genome include: growing transplantable human organs; engineering immunity to viruses; engineering cancer resistance; and accelerating vaccine and drug development using human cells and organs.
The project aims to build such a synthetic genome and test it in cells in the laboratory within 10 years. The project, which arose from an invitation-only meeting of scientists last month at Harvard University that some critics denounced as too secretive, was unveiled in the journal Science by the experts involved. They acknowledged that their undertaking is controversial and said they would seek public involvement and the consideration of ethical, legal and social implications. The scientists, most of whom work at U.S. academic and other institutions, proposed what they called the Human Genome Project-Write. They said they hoped to get $100 million in public and private funding to launch it this year and expect total costs of less than the $3 billion used for the original Human Genome Project that completely mapped human DNA for the first time in 2003.