It has been over a decade since the Human Genome Project (HGP-read) was completed. It succeeded in sequencing the entire human genome and is recognised as one of the greatest feats in science. The data obtained has revolutionised our understanding and allowed huge advances in medicine.
On Thursday 2nd June 2016, in the journal Science, it was formally announced that a new project named Human Genome Project-write (HGP-write) has been proposed and is expected to be launched in the latter half of 2016. The aim of this 10 year project is to chemically synthesize large, gigabase (Gb) sized stretches of DNA including animal and plant genomes. The project also hopes to synthesize the entire human genome (3 Gb of human DNA). The HGP-write project will be run by a non-profit organisation and hopes to raise $100 million this year from public, private, industry and academic sources.
The proposed project, however, has raised many ethical, legal and social concerns. Critics of this project fear that developing the technology to synthesize the entire human genome, could, for example, lead to the creation of designer babies or babies without any biological parents. But the project scientists argue that developing methods to synthesize large genomes, including the human genome, would further advance science and medicine, rather than be used for other less ethical applications.
If HGP-write is successful, the potential applications of large-scale DNA synthesis are many. For example, it could be possible to engineer pig organs suitable for human transplant; use genome-wide recoding to engineer resistance to all viruses; or engineer cancer resistance into new therapeutic cell lines.
Just as the HGP-read project revolutionised DNA sequencing and allowed the cost of sequencing DNA to be dramatically reduced, the proposers of the HGP-write project hope to drive down costs of DNA synthesis, making large-scale synthesis and editing of genomes possible.
Used responsibly, with all ethical and social issues resolved, the potential technology developed through the HGP-write project could indeed revolutionise science and medicine.
- Vickie Flint PhD
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