When scientists start proposing genetic projects that involve creating DNA blueprints for how to make a human baby, people are bound to find that at least a bit troubling.
But that’s exactly what the Human Genome Project proposes. Even though the researchers clearly stated they have no intention of using these genomes to make people, knowing they have the power and the knowledge to do that poses some ethical questions.
Instead, the team said these huge collections of genetic material would be used in lab experiments: the generated human genomes will be inserted into cells or into organoids – simplified versions of human organs.
This project could have numerous applications, such as helping scientists detect the effects of genetic mutations, or develop safer stem cells for transplantation.
Jef Boeke of New York University and George Church of Harvard University are two of the 25 authors of a paper submitting the effort for review. Their study was published Wednesday in the journal Science.
The Human Genome Project would also like to create genomes of animals and plants and explore new techniques for editing DNA.
At the moment, scientists have the knowledge and resources to make relatively short stretches of DNA, but they would need more advanced technology and to create entire genomes the size of the human one.
Achieving that feat would also be hugely expensive. Therefore, the main goal proposed for the new long-term project is to find a way to cut the cost of engineering big genomes by more than a thousand-fold in just a decade.
Church explained that their hope is that the creation of human genomes will become inexpensive enough for scientists to study “millions of genomes in dozens of cell types” and find various effects of mutation.
The project could also offer other benefits, such “as engineering virus resistance into mammal cells that are used to make medicines,” and helping efforts to genetically modify pigs’ organs to there would be no fear of rejection when they are transplanted into people.
To launch the effort this year, the team of researchers hopes to raise the $100 million they need from public, private, industry, philanthropic, and academic sources from anywhere in the world.
But is developing the ability to make human genomes a good idea? What do you think?
Image Source: Science Alert