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article imageFunding shortage for synthesized human genome plan

By Tim Sandle     May 11, 2017 in Science
The next-big thing in the world of biological science is an attempt to synthesize the human genome, or what’s being called the ‘Genome Project-write.’ This momentous challenge remains unfunded and it has raised some controversies.
Following on from the major breakthrough in biological science of the twenty-first century – the mapping of the human genome – comes the Genome Project-write project. With this, in place of reading a human genome, researchers aim to create a ‘human’ genome from scratch. The working model will then be used for research testing. Some ideas mooted include attempting to create a human genome that is resistant to viral infections, radiation, and cancer.
Part of the mission statement for the project reads: “Many scientists now believe that to truly understand our genetic blueprint, it is necessary to “write” DNA and build human (and other) genomes from scratch. Such an endeavor will require research and development on a grand scale.”
This mission, inevitably, divides opinion both within the scientific community and outside in the fields of public policy and ethics. Speaking with the magazine Science, Andrew Hessel, who runs Autodesk in San Francisco, said: “If you put humans as the target, even though you are not going to make a human baby, it will be provocative, it will be misinterpreted, but people will engage.” The issue of creating ‘genetically enhanced humans’ has hit the headlines in certain parts of the media; this is even though this is not part of the project (or even technologically feasible or socially desirable).
The idea of creating a disease-resistant genome is to then use the genome for applications like universal stem cell therapy. This would, hopefully, drive applications like cancer research and vaccine development.
This is scientifically possible following two decades of work on Synthetic Biology (building artificial biological systems for research, engineering and medical applications) and Artificial gene synthesis (a method in synthetic biology that is used to create artificial genes in the laboratory). Should the project be approved by regulators and gain sufficient funding it will be a complex task, for the human genome consists of three billion DNA nucleotides, which have been described in the Human Genome Project - Read program.
The next phase of the process to gain funding is a meeting taking place in early May, made up of scientists, lawyers and ethicists, at the New York Genome Center in New York City. Funding for the project is pitched at $3 billion. If funding is achieved, the laboratory likely to begin the work is, according to Wired, the one run by Professor George Church, a prominent geneticist at Harvard University. The aim is to raise money from public, private, philanthropic, industry, and academic funders.
More about Genome, Human genome, genomics, Genetics
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