According to the New York Times attendees were told to keep a tight lip about what took place, but someone must have dropped a hint to the press. Synthetic human genome is a big step up from gene editing – it uses chemicals to manufacture all the DNA contained in human chromosomes. It relies on the custom-designed base pair series and geneticists wouldn’t be bound by the two base pairs produced by nature.
They could, in theory build microbes, animals and humans. So a company could build the right human for the job.
Obviously this is ethically a minefield and the world of science appears to have not really got the hang of how to succeed in getting the public on its side. It seems to think that if there is a public debate, then religious nutjobs will lean on politicians who will put the lid on the whole thing. However keeping the meeting secret though has created an internet conspiracy stir and reports of the meeting appear to be getting out of hand.
George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard medical school and a key organizer of the proposed project said that the meeting wasn’t really about synthetic human genomes, but rather it was about efforts to improve the ability to synthesize long strands of DNA, which geneticists could use to create all manner of animals, plants and microbes.
Yet the original name of the project was “HGP2: The Human Genome Synthesis Project”. What’s more, an invitation to the meeting clearly stated that the primary goal would be “to synthesise a complete human genome in a cell line within a period of ten years”.
Church said the meeting was secret because his team has submitted a paper to a scientific journal, and they’re not supposed to discuss the idea publicly before publication.
Church does want to build a complete human genome in a cell line within ten years. So far scientists have synthesized a simple bacterial cell.