Scientists Talk Privately About Creating a Synthetic Human Genome

May 14, 2016 · 215 comments
Don DeHart Bronkema (Washington DC)
When philosophers & historians of science began quietly discussing implications of androids at helix time in 1953, people would edge nervously toward the last we seem en route to vindication...androids would find many uses, but the larger benefit of genegineering & epigeneering is to purge faulty DNA at the germ cell or zygote stages [easier than repairing blastocysts & embryos, let alone foetae]...we imperfect phenotypes [short, weak, ectomorphic, ugly, awkward, skreechy, brainless] could be purged before replication--a major advance toward happiness & technocratic efficiency as we spread beyond this beleaguered planet...uploading to optimal clones [per Delphi-projections] would be rendered nugatory.
scientist (boynton beach, fl)
If its a girl, they can name her "Syntheia"
Emil (Austria)
Will the baby have a belly button?
Chris (USA)
Fabrication of a human genome? Yeah right. They can't even get basic plant genetics right.
cb (mn)
It will be done, if not here, then there. It is only a matter of time. And everyone already knows this..
Caleb (Illinois)
The minds of scientists who could even conceive of this project must be horrible.
John (New York City)
The ultimate in domestication. A species that domesticates its biological nature. Interesting. Such hubris.

Anyway, I have no negative or positive thoughts on this...for now. I will point out, though, that the history of the species is instructive on things like this. Intelligent (are we)? Absolutely. Wise? I daresay no. We are usually clueless as to how what we do impacts not only ourselves, but our progeny, too. We are the ultimate in near-sighted when it comes to longer term biological and geological processes. And this is not to mention the entire web of life on this planet. We are pretty clueless as to how we rattle things. We are as a toddler carrying a heavy hammer (our intelligence) wandering freely about a shop full of pretty crystal ornaments and dishware. We have a tendency to smash things. So should we proceed with this I would hope we are at least wise enough to know that we don't know, and so should proceed with care. I trust that our intelligence at least allows for this.

American Net'Zen
Roland Berger (Ontario, Canada)
Making synthetic human will be very useful on some planets the rich will move to after destroying the Earth.
toom (Germany)
When I hear about the demands of the religious right, I sneer. But when I read this article and some of the comments, I conclude that the religious right are attacking the wrong targets. Maybe they should think about the desiner humans and start protesting, rathrer than trying to close Planned Parenthood.
Terry Goldman (Los Alamos, NM)
'“They’re painting a picture which I don’t think represents the project,” Dr. Church said in an interview.' -- How blind can you be? It will certainly continue to the way he doesn't 'think'. Thankfully, it will fail miserably at first, because they won't be able to get any of the epigenetics right.
The Pentagon is the No. 1 customer for these humans without families, as the products can be raised to be soldiers, about whom no one will care when they come home in a box.
Chris (Arkansas)
There is a fictional book anticipating this very issue. It is called "Frankenstein, Return of the Son of Man." It is available on Amazon.
Kevin (Washington, DC)
Another facet of the problem with leftists controlling academia.. they have zero ethics.
Sophia (London)
Great, we could make a new generarion of inteliigent, wise, compasisonate people and wait for the Republicans to die off.
AmateurHistorian (NYC)
And to think how much further ahead Chinese, Japanese and Korean scientists are. Is anyone really doubting Asian scientists are pushing full steam ahead with genetic engineering? Asian already understand the important of good genes and fully embrace technology that would give them better opportunities.
Priscilla Estes (<a href="" title="" target="_blank"></a>)
Let's build a genome. Go for it! But remember that the genome does not contain all the intelligence that is a human life. Consciousness is a separate intelligence. I do not believe that it can be built, but rather, created.
angbob (Hollis, NH)
Leaving the improvement of our species to Nature is an abrogation of our obligation to help living creatures on our planet. Nature is slow, inefficient, and cruel. We can do better; that's why we exist.
Mark (New York, NY)
Most of previous comments --and the piece itself -- take into consideration the ethical issues raised. Undoubtedly rightly so. However, what about the "ontological" aspect? if life is really re-producible out of the "chemicals", what about all the discourse on its essence?--I am thinking about a Thomas Nagel and all debate still surrounding the "Darwinian account" of origins of life...So, was emergence of life really the eventual outcome of physical laws in (casual) combination of chemicals' work? Food for thought...
Al E.Gator (Sayreville, New Jersey)
As mentions earlier dolly the sheep was the great hope for creating a 'custom' being. Results; failure. I, personally, don't know how far along this science is but, my guess is the surface has just been scratched.
A Goldstein (Portland)
When we look ahead at what is possible and what is likely, we use our current state of knowledge which as history proves is woefully deficient when compared with what science actually learns about our world. And of course, we look back at the past and think how quaint our views were about where things are going.

What really matters for all times is applying, as best we can our morals and ethics with a healthy dose of skepticisim
Wordsworth from Wadsworth (Mesa, Arizona)
"Einstein’s genome?” Think more utilitarian.

People in the East with produce a synthetic genome of a simpleton for a slave for labor of some sort: butlers, berry pickers, brothel workers, and blade runners.
Joe G (Houston)
Civilizations have been built and destroyed by religions. Is it science turn to do the same? Who wouldn't want to modify their children if it will increase their chances of success and good health? The wealthy already convinced of their superiority will be able to buy it guaranteed.

Don't write off religion yet. As they managed to guide civilization from human sacrifice to more modern techniques who's to say if a spiritual movement will appear to restore humanity from an out of control material state. Much like Islam's reaction to the modern but worse.
KY (SF Bay Area)
I believe in progress but I believe some things like mother nature should not be messed with. We've seen before that playing with her is playing with fire. Remember the poor cloned goat that died immediately after birth? Disheartening and sickening because that poor animal suffered. Remember what happened with the genetic corn, worms and moths? Are the Moffetts extinct yet? Look at how many animals we've made extinct with our own hands, without science. How many disabled, half humans, Frankenstein's, etc. are they going to "accidentally" create before successfully creating a Surviving human being from just genes? How was that person feel about not having parents? I think depression is inevitable. (Children who were given up by their parents have enough issues.)
We just don't know the consequences, which they will most likely hide like they tried to with the GMO corn.

No, this is NOT a good idea.
Luis (Buenos Aires)
We have now people enjoying glamorous lives while children are starving and don't attend school. Men are raised to be soldiers in many parts of the world, or end up being one because its the only job available. So the future of humanity is not threatened by this new discovery but by our miserable way of organizing the world. If we do things right DNA manipulation will only bring us more freedom from the imperfection of our bodies.
Joie (Huelo, Maui)
Um, maybe I'm the only one who's noticed, but we seem to have an overpopulation problem with humans reaching up to 10 billion, resources are running out, climate change burning up forests, water shortages, glacier melts, and 70% of the world population if not more are starving. If they want to violate the natural order of things and play G--d, then let them recreate all the species that have died from human activity and pollution. More animals, less humans, please. Thank you.
Nirmal Kumar Mishra (Patna, India)
It is still a long way to go, and a wishful thinking to produce man or any other species totally by choice. The chance will play its role to fudge or alter the scheme. Scientists often leap into the unknown future a bit precociously.
cstamford (Socal)
It seems to me that even if scientists could manufacture all of the different chromosomes it takes to make up a living human cell, they'd still need the "protein machines" cells use to make the proteins the chromosomes code for, before even getting close to making a human cell, starting with just "chemicals".

The thing about "life", any form of life, is that it's never been observed to come from anything other than other life, and there's a very good reason for this. New cells aren't "born". Rather, one cell divides in a process called mitosis, and it is this dividing that supplies to the new cell every protein machine it needs to manage the DNA strands, where that "management" is absolutely critical to survival...even for just an hour! How these scientists hope to overcome this "chicken and egg" survival problem that has stumped all origin of life research is the real story here, and the one the Times seemed to have missed.
Curtis J. Neeley Jr. (Newark, AR, U.S.A.)
There is not enough time left for this eventuality to occur. The United States of self-rule by "We the People" ended between May 31, 1790 and Jan. 21, 2010.
Too many people think America is still "democracy" and honorable but will awaken soon. Harvard etc will no longer hope to continue this type research. This will be nothing except as a memory of where were were going to go.
J (SF Bay Area, CA)
The anti-intellectualism in this comment section is astounding, given that it is 2016.

I have read many posters' concerns over the issue, many of which seem to be knee-jerk panic or contempt for science. for what?

I am trying very hard to not be derogatory, but I really can't see what the issue is here. Most of us won't be around to see the fruition of this experiment, if it even works.

My vote is for science to plow forward, and for religion and fear to step aside.
This is supposed to be the New York Times Science section and we get a first paragraph like this...

"Scientists are now contemplating the fabrication of a human genome, meaning they would use chemicals to manufacture all the DNA contained in human chromosomes."

Every biomolecule in every organism that has ever "lived" is a chemical. A nucleotide is a chemical. The precursors to nucleotides are chemicals. Water is a chemical, which makes most chemists shudder at the absurdity of the warnings in laboratory sinks to pour no chemicals down the drain... Even the air in those unused pipes, if we follow the guidelines is a chemical. Unless of course the author is under the impression that the human genome could be assembled with Pixie Dust...

Stop dumbing down your articles. Saying that they would synthetically produce DNA polymers one nucleotide at a time using the four basic deoxyribonucleic acids would likely be a more accurate representation of what they are looking to do (those are chemicals, by the way... just in case the author thought that the A, C, T, and G's were some magical, other worldly substance not of a chemical or elemental origin).
Alex Ingram (Harpersville Alabama)
So to arrive at a concise application end from such a "potential" ability based upon extrapolation and cost projection we get "what"? Mutant/hybrid GMO humans, synthesized into being without navels? (Talk about parental rejection.) Are there already a sufficient number of things with possible dangerous implications that might threaten human existence or do we need to fund the postulation and creation of more? The debate shouldn't hinge upon religious or ethical merits. This is after all a Scientific and business endeavor isn't it? I feel the debate should be focused on common sense and evaluated by the value in improving the quality of life for humanity. It's like sinking our efforts into Terra forming some far distant UN-reachable planet, before we've learned to live a sustainable life on our own world.
Genaugmen (Kentucky)
Sounds like the prologue to Blade Runner. While most any technology can be utilized for good or bad, I see the potential for so many questionable uses. Would a synthetic human even be recognized as human by law. Worried about Mexicans or machines replacing jobs?? What about the legal slave labor synthetic humans could provide. Genetically modified super soldiers have been a thing scifi movies, up until now. All of those scenarios that use to be the things of fantasy suddenly become real possibilities for the near future, especially when you factor in government/military applications. As fantastic as the possibilities are, I've never seen a scientific breakthrough that holds more potential for questionable/scary uses.
Jeanne Donovan (South Carolina)
And here is an example of what we don't need in science. With all the problems with Muscular Dystrophy, Alzheimer's, Cancer, Parkinson's, etc. that we already face, I would gladly support research to cure/eliminate these types of diseases. This seems like a race to beat out another country to produce an artificially made human rather than working to solve problems that we already have medically. Enough people believe that today's science is already a rip off for money, that cures exist that are not dispensed to the public so corporations can make huge profits, this does not have to be done.
Pierre Anonymot (Paris)
With rare exception, scientists think they are above ethics. They are practical, highly focused people who follow their curiosity wherever it leads. Ethics is for generalists, philosophers. Nowadays, the question of power and rewards is also a major consideration.

So today we've lost our moral compass and replaced it with a lot of runaway and pseudo-science. All sorts of artistic blather wants itself called "science", from psychology to religious cults. We will have George Church's cloned DNA, because it is a step toward artificial people. There will be masses of money sown along the way to be reaped by the scientists.

We can only hope that the factory-mades include more philosophers than we man-made ones possess.
Girish Kotwal (Louisville, KY)
Correcting defective gene alleles with single nucleotide polymorphisms causing disease or deformity was one of the goals of the genome project is perfectly ethical. But to fabricate/synthesize the entire human genome may not be ethical and if such an endeavor is underway with federal government support there needs to be close scrutiny as to the rationale and purpose of doing so. The project can continue in the idea stage and not venture in the execution stage. The new project of writing the human genome has no path to creating Einstein's genome. Having the genome and creating Einstein is practically impossible and so for now we can be assured that our wildest imagination will not come to fruition in our lifetimes because it is so unnatural and without similar nurturing and influence of the historical times. I am not loosing sleep at this time with regard to the ethical impact of just this wild discussion of the 150 attendees at Harvard MS. I will continue to study the impact of ones genes on longevity. Clearly I think that will be significant to answer the very basic question I posed to an expert on social security who said that when to start drawing social security benefits depends on several factors and one of them being life expectancy. I asked the expert "how do I know how long I will live" The genes will give some insights and would be a major factor but there are several others like the state of health, family support, financial security, access to health care etc.
Hadschi Halef Omar (On the Orient Express)
Two things:

First, we are not NEARLY there yet. The entire human genome has been cloned in bacteria and been available in a dish for over 30 years. That's not the point. The challenge, for which I do not read answer here or anywhere in the literature, is how that DNA can be repackaged into functional chromosomes in vitro, endowed with the proper methylation pattern, and with the proper histone modifications in place that are required for driving even the earliest stages of embryonic development. After that, those chromosomes must be transferred back into an oocyte that has undergone fertilization, packaged into the nucleus, in the context of a functional spindle apparatus to allow the first cell division. CRISPR, the technology we all have heard so much about for the last year or so, is child's play compared to that.

Second, even if we could do all that, making changes to the genome in a way where we can predict the outcome is equally difficult. Knowing the coding sequences is one thing, but we have absolutely no idea, how all the regulatory regions, which really determine how the person coming out of this is shaping up, are interacting with each other.

Right now, it is completely unclear how these problems can or will be solved. A much safer bet is that we CAN have bases on Mars in 30 years. That is technologically possible, but I still doubt it will happen.

I hope many of you can sleep better tonight after reading this.
dolly patterson (Redwood City, CA)
I've been hearing these stories for 20 years and am sick of the "sensation" about them. Yes, I worked my tail end off for stem cell research to pass CA. Prop 71, and followed the research around "Dolly, the sheep" while working at Stanford University's Medical Center. I get it. It's exciting. But there is always a balance of good and bad.

I don't think the world would have nearly the bigotry it has had all these years if people understood genetics. Heck, we wouldn't have the transgender-bathroom fights *today* if people understood genetics.

But can the media please stop projecting and making these stories so dramatic and sensational?? The media is not helping human health and welfare when they print these types of futurist and science-fiction stories....remember how "evil" Republicans thought stem cell research was?
strongmind (Chicago)
I think the "secret meeting" was on how to get some of that climate change research money.
Patrick (Baltimore)
Let em' have it, that ship has sailed.....I'd rather they use the science to finally find cures to the incurable, the scientists that receive Government funding need to be kept on a short leash lest they stray into unethical territory.
If something can happen - it will.
If anything wrong can happen - it will.
This is the beginning of the end.
Some day,some time, hopefully not in our lifetime.
Hello Mankind as we know it....
Samsara (The West)
America has become a nation of secrets in which ordinary citizens have no idea what their government is doing behind the scenes, what corporations are doing and what scientists, including those developing for the Pentagon, are doing.

How long can democracy survive in such a climate?
William Starr (Boston, Massachusetts)
"How long can democracy survive in such a climate?"

So far, approximately since 5 July 1776.
(Okay, I exaggerate. But not by much.)
Etienne Perret (Camden, Maine)
I recommend you read more.
Most all this information is available to those who are curious.
Dutch (Chicago)
Sorry, but I think we have to be quite a bit smarter, and more grown-up, than we are to begin messing with the human genome on this level. Yes, I know that someone is going to attempt it, so why not Americans. But, humanity has already proven it can't properly control a knife or a gun (not to mention NBC weapons)--why do we think we're responsible enough to control something even more potentially deadly.
Jeff (DC)
What they are suggesting could potentially effect our species, they don't have the right to do this type of experimenting.
Etienne Perret (Camden, Maine)
Right or not it will happen, so we must work to use it for the best of the World.
bob (nv)
so they wont to make a super we will go the way of early man
we are dead
kiljoy616 (USA)
Yes please its time to move on and push science as far as we can take it. Its not like you can bottle back the genie no matter what some might think or make believe. We won't know what we can accomplish unless we try and its not like most of the human population is smart enough to understand this science when they are praying for rain.
Carl R (London, UK)
It is impossible for this not to happen. It is like handing pocket calculators to traders in a market and wondering whether they will use them.

It is good that people who have been involved with DNA for a while (e.g. Dr. Church) are pushing this, rather than waiting for starry-eyed and inexperienced outsiders to take the lead.

There is not necessarily a problem with respect to faith. There are some interesting Islamic discussions on cloning; the soundbite summary is that all of nature was divinely prepared for humans to work with, and therefore with some restrictions it can be OK.
Nathan Edelson (San Francisco CA)
Don't think we are going to have to wait 20 years to get the price for a big custom genome down to $100,000, and probably in a few years it will be down to $1000. That's what Ray Kurzweil meant by the acceleration of the acceleration of science and technology -- The Singularity is Near, and I'm looking forward to it.
William Starr (Boston, Massachusetts)
"The Singularity is Near," ...and always will be. :-)
Iggy B (Georgia)
This will happen eventually. Why do some people - given the track record of human history - believe it will mostly result in good things...?

Ultimately, this is about contempt for Nature and elevating individuals into positions of a god.

They will say people like myself are against curing cancer. That they simply want to rid humanity of terrible diseases and ab abnormalities.

But they meet in secret, because deep down they know in some corner of their brain where this will go.

It isn't hard to guess. Look what we've done in the past...

In some East Asian nations, they have a demographic problem, because of the disproportionate number of female fetuses that get aborted. In South Korea, it has been illegal to tell the mother what gender the baby will be, but the law is broken so often, the number of male fetuses allowed to live is lopsided to the detriment of future generations.

This is the most likely type of outcome we're going to get as our ability to over-rule nature increases. We don't have to guess at the future, because we have a clear track record of what we already do and have done before.

I hope I'm dead before they gain the power to mass produce humans.

Once the cord of fathering and mothering a child is severed, and humans are produced based on design, humanity will become extinct. We'll be a different species then, and I wish those who believe that will be a good thing would try to explain why based on our track record so far in recorded history.
kiljoy616 (USA)
Turn of you computer and go ride a horse if you think technology leads to bad things. No ignorance and group think of peasants leads to bad outcomes.
Hadschi Halef Omar (On the Orient Express)
"This will happen eventually. Why do some people - given the track record of human history - believe it will mostly result in good things...?

Ultimately, this is about contempt for Nature and elevating individuals into positions of a god."

Not at all! This is just one aspect of the evolution of our species, where our intellectual ability has developed to the point where we are, in principle at least, capable of changing our own genetic destiny.

That IS evolution!

It is the next step mankind is taking. It has nothing to do with defying or playing God. It is merely evidence of a rapidly evolving biological system that has progressed to the point where it can self-modify. This is the next step the laws of nature allow evolution to progress to.

However, as I wrote earlier, I think it will take a very long time to overcome the formidable technical obstacles before we can really generate a synthetic human being from cloned DNA.
William Starr (Boston, Massachusetts)
"Why do some people - given the track record of human history - believe it will mostly result in good things...?"

Yeah, that 'electricity' thing was a real tragedy, wasn't it?
elmueador (New York City)
I am reminded of Pinky and the Brain, a popular 90ies cartoon depicting mice trying to take over the world. We haven't fully sequenced the human genome and the unsequenced islands, full of repeats and difficult/impossible- to- assemble stretches of DNA are legion. Furthermore, "new genes" pop up wherever we go - including in mitochondria, where they just found a novel (if small) protein in a 16 kb genome (that's short). We haven't got a clue what about 50% of the sequenced genes are doing, how they are regulated what pathways/pathnets there are... Big data on a small subset doesn't mean big understanding, I'm afraid (I am sure we know most about p53 now) and how and which bases you methylate, glycosylate etc of the chemically made DNA before you put it in a cell-like-environment... Absurd but cute, "laboratory mice, their genes have been spliced..." Synthesizing DNA has been done since the late 60ies, and nobody got their ethics panties in a bunch. We;ll cross that bridge when we get there, shall we?
Malcolm (NYC)
Scary territory. When (it is not 'if' but 'when') we are able to artificially synthesize a human genome, then what kind of choices will we (or rather they) make? Based on what goals, desires, principles, science? Will there be a new 'master-race' with all the intelligence and good looks and bodies that we all envy? If so, we may be creating a group of dangerous narcissists on a scale that even we in the US are unused to, and that includes Donald Trump. That is just one of many outcomes that may ensue. It seems to me that we lack the wisdom to use this new technology. But given who we are, we will of course use it.
This is likely the only way humanity will persist into the distant future. We will record the genetic program and place it on spacefaring "arcs" that could travel the light years to the next habitable planet. The necessary biomolecules would be stored in a deep-freeze and there would be robotic bioreactors that could reconstitute the genomes into enucleated eggs, providing the necessary nutrients and environment to allow for development. There would need to be robotic caretakers to raise this new group of humans until they were able to take command of the ship and populate the new planet.

We are a long way off still, but it is much more of a reality that it would have thought to have been twenty years ago. We can grow organs from small mammals in bioreactors now... eventually we will be able to build an artificial uterus bioreactor that can be sent to the distant stars to allow for humans to travel the vast distances and times required to cross interstellar space.

The most important part is that we have unlocked the code of our genes. We are still probably at the equivalent of a first grade reading level, but we know the rudiments of how we are made, and efforts like these only further that understanding.
Hadschi Halef Omar (On the Orient Express)
You can rest assured, the reference genome will be from the best and the brightest America has to offer. This being an election year, that means it will probably be Trump, since the American people always elect the best and the brightest button to the White House.

What could possibly go wrong there?
Pete (Germantown, MD)
Scientists abandoned ethics long ago when declaring that while the species is important, the individual is not. I wonder if humanity's undoing will happen in my lifetime. I have no doubt it will happen.
kiljoy616 (USA)
Don't be ignorant the individual has never been important when it came to religion, govt. or for that matter anything. Society does not even recognize the individual to fiction. Individual matter to themselves but the group comes first when it comes to survival.
wolfman (Milford, Mi)
You really have a high opinion of yourself. don't you?
Sara (Oakland CA)
Just as the A.I. zealots misunderstand the nature of human consciousness- these gene wonks misunderstand what makes us human.
These reductionists apparently don't know what they can't feel-- the full mysterious array of subjective experience, woven through time, resonant with events, feelings, relationships, art, music, travel, loss, love, nightmares, joy, transcendence, sensuality, memory. intersubjectivity - so their science projects become enthralling & preposterous.
Men (mostly) have wanted to challenge the power of creation- be it imagined through God or through a woman's uterus. They strive to defy their own limitations.
They claim they'll recreate Einstein, but that is a rationalization.The giddy delusions of arrogant tech boys: hubris & hutzpah.
kiljoy616 (USA)
No gods where needed for life to start and no gods will be needed for humanity to move into the future.
Mor (California)
This is such a ridiculously narrow-minded and retrograde attitude! I am a woman, a scientist and a mother. I experience the full range of human emotions: awe, wonder, humility at the face of the amazing and wonderful universe that does not care a jot for us, a surge of pride when I solve even a tiny portion of its mysteries. If you idea of sublimity comes from glorifying ignorance, I pity you.
William Starr (Boston, Massachusetts)
"They strive to defy their own limitations."

You know, there *are* those of us who think that's a good thing...
wolfman (Milford, Mi)
If it can be done it will be done....right or wrong....good or makes no difference.
Ash land (cincinatti)
Once they create the DNA, They can ask James Brown for some "Soul" and incorporate it and make an atheist, maybe Obama. Remember, these scientist will not be able to steal a monkey's DNA and convert it into Sharpton, because monkeys don't have a soul.
Fred Caceres (Wallingford PA, USA)
I know it sounds exciting to see what we can do, but it also sounds cruel. Creating humans to use them as soldiers, sounds like slavery to me. It is wrong and that cannot be allowed! I oppose 1000% it is inhuman.
RajeevA (Phoenix)
What will happen to regular humanity when the brave new world of Homo Sapiens Syntheticus arrives? What will these post-humans do to us? Most likely we will share the Neanderthals' fate. Hopefully, Earth will have far better stewards.
kiljoy616 (USA)
It would not matter because you will not be around. Its like saying what will happen to human in a million years. Get over the fear of new things.
ejhuff (Laurel Highlands)
Okay folks, this is not about creating a human embryo and implanting it. It is about creating an immortal cell line to be grown in cell culture. There are many human cell lines. The first, known as HeLa, "was derived from cervical cancer cells taken on February 8, 1951 from Henrietta Lacks, a patient who died of her cancer on October 4, 1951." (Wikipedia).
Jessy (New Jersey)
Do you know anything about HeLa cells? They were obtained without the woman's permission in the first place. She was also treated terribly without proper treatment in the black section of a hospital. Once scientists did take her cells, and profit millions of dollars, not a single one of her family members was ever given a cent. Completely unethical in every way.

I would like to think that this will only be used to create a cell line for culturing, but we all know that this is not the case. Scientists are hungry people, and most often this is a good desire as they improve the lives of people all over. However, given the knowledge, ability, and money, scientists will undoubtedly create humans as their next step. Creating humans is the combined job of nature and God, not of people.

All of my information about HeLa has come from The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
Concerned Citizen (Anywheresville)
I cannot imagine any possible way that this could go horribly, horribly wrong....can you?
ejhuff (Laurel Highlands)
Peter (CT)
You should rent that "Universal Soldier" movie with Jean-Claude Van Damme. I don't want to spoil it for you, but there are several major problems with the genetically engineered soldiers.
J (SF Bay Area, CA)
Not really, unless you are a fan of very bad science fiction.
CC (Europe)
I think that my two freedom-craving teenage boys would have loved to have been the first human beings without biological parents.
sarai (ny, ny)
LOL.And a sensible reality check. Best way to cast light on an assumed monster.
JH (San Francisco)
Welcome to the Dawn of the most dangerous bio-weapons that could be programmed to wipeout every living cell on this planet or any DNA related ethic group or particular animal species targeted.

And since all cells contain certain common parts you could program a DNA bio-weapon to actually end life on this planet at the cellular level.

On the bright side we may be able to create a species of subservient animals that could act as factory workers, butlers, ect.

And of course make designer super humans.

Good luck we will be needing it.
S (MC)
Not surprising at all to me. None of the scientists I know appears to have any interest in science beyond its ability to earn them money, and zero concern for ethics or the societal consequences of their work. The lawyers and bankers I know are paragons of virtue by comparison.
Mark Wilson (California)
Really? Because the scientists that I know - naturalists, botanists, zoologists, microbiologists, doctors, birders, chemists - are motivated by a love for nature and a search for truth. Very few of us are rich (in the money sense). This work has the potential to help address hunger, medical problems, biofuels; the whole point of this research is the societal consequences.
mike (Brooklyn)
How many scientists to you know, exactly? An academic scientific career is the most efficient way for a smart person to earn the least amount of money possible.
Larry Figdill (Charlottesville)
I can't really see any medical reasons for doing this project. It is more about some arrogant scientists ideas to bolster their egos and conquer big biochemical engineering project for no particular purpose - or are they really hoping to be able to design a human being some day? (which is far more complicated than synthesizing a genome). I just hope that no government/public money goes into to, at the expense of innumerable other more valuable things.
Mor (California)
So pursuit of knowledge is not a worthwhile goal in itself? Understanding human nature is not a good reason to spend public money? What is a "more valuable" project - curing obesity-related diseases, perhaps? (Hint: just stop eating junk). The degree of hostility to science and willful ignorance displayed in these comments is mind-boggling. I guess this is where Trump finds his voters!
Nathan an Expat (China)
Articles like this while potentially alarmist also ironically create an illusion of control. A group of scientists meeting in Boston no matter how prestigious is not going to be able to control the development of this science anymore than any single government could. There are far too many well resourced and innovative players involved today in genome research around the world. Genome research (and you might add STEM cell research) today is at a stage comparable to the IBM UNIVAC 1100 vacuum tube computer era of the 1950s. We are on the cusp of rapid exponential developments that we currently cannot foresee. Buckle up!
Rick Gage (mt dora)
To anyone who thinks America should not be involved in this research, keep in mind that there are people all over the world who would be happy to patent and reap the rewards of these studies. Many scientists had moral objections to the atomic bomb but they couldn't fight science. You can't unlearn a scientific discovery. That's unscientific.
kiljoy616 (USA)
Only religious idiots think we should not be involved and like everything those fools have ever done only makes us weaker and destine to become a joke of the world.
Constance Underfoot (Seymour, CT)
Creating a synthetic human is fine and dandy, but as sentient life, it can (I will presume) sue to be excluded from the science experiment whenever it so chooses. And creating a possible 1,000 IQ being will be like nuclear power, it may save us or destroy us.

So maybe rolling humanity's dice without the prying eyes of all humanity isn't the best idea.
Diana (Centennial, Colorado)
It is too late to stop this. Knowledge cannot be unlearned, and will be shared. We can only hope that there are enough ethical scientists who will act responsibly in terms of the use of the created "product".
Citizen (Maryland)
This would have been a far more interesting article if it had spent some time comparing this conference with the December conference on gene editing, held in Washington, DC, which focused specifically on the moral and ethical implications of gene editing technologies.

As it is, this article makes it sound as though all the gene scientists want to forget ahead, in secrecy, making some sort of frankenstein monster without thought to the consequences. The December conference makes it clear that that is simply not the case at all.

Did the reporter who wrote up THIS conference even attend the December one? Lots of reporters did, after all.
Robert Cohen (Atlanta-Athens GA area)
These are some BRAVE NEW WORLD first thoughts, and after I post my reactions, then I'll look at comments, because there are usually both pro and dissenting minds of various perspectives hereabout.

The phenomena shall probably become so controversial that they'll be protested & suppressed.

But researchers will find ways to pursue their fantastic work, whether domestically secretly or off-shore.

I presume researching is on-going at least privately in the real world now.

This research will seemingly go on whatever local, national, and/or international laws apply.

It surely makes no difference what I think is right/wrong, and especially because I can't decide what's good/bad anyhow.
Worried (NYC)
Aren't there too many humans now? Why do we need more?
Joe G (Houston)
We get old and children are cute.
Gale Watts (Camden, Maine)
Aldous Huxley was prescient.
miriam (Astoria, Queens)
He sure was.

Also prescient was Karel Čapek, in R.U.R. N.B. Čapek's robots were made of flesh, not metal.
This is what happens when a bunch of nerds have too much money and too much time on their hands. I think Swift labeled them "Laputians." The tag still fits...
Owen (Iverson)
Basically this will be how we ensure the endurance of the human species. It seems scary now, but this is simply the logical continuation of our intelligence.
Nathan H. Brown, Jr. (Washington, D. C.)
It's just feedback in a complex dynamical system comprising animals and computational machines. Hardly surprising, given the amount of complexity theory in existence today.
Paul Knoepfler (Davis, CA)
I think talk of CRISPR being replaced by entirely synthetic human chromosomes is not realistic any time soon.
As a scientist I cannot really think of any good reason this meeting needed to be closed.
NYT Readers might be interested in this recent interview I did with Church on human genetic modification & more:
Patty (Westchester.)
I have no problem ethical with humans fiddling with genes, but don't we have enough humans already (millions of refugees and people living in poverty) and there are much more fun ways to make new humans.
Manuel (Ohio)
Let me get this straight: we have closed (A very fine distinction between that & "secret") meetings to discuss a follow-up HGP2? There is a discussion of writing a synthetic human genome (acknowledged as "error-prone"), with the possibility of deleting stretches of DNA that (we think do not have any function? Now what could possibly go wrong with this idea?

We had better think long & hard about what we are looking at, & all possible ramifications, including those of which we cannot presently conceive, given our self-centered perception of the world & our place in it
This project could be a beginning to new & wondrous things. It could also be the beginning of the end of (human) life as we know & enjoy it.

In any case, I want the disinfectant of sunlight in the form of public disclosure of all discussions & considerations of these experiments & developments. "Private" meetings & sessions, especially by governments & their "sanctioned" (state-approved) partners have led to many wrongs in the history of the Human Race.
callsup (USA)
In the information age who is playing god?
David Q. (maryland, us)
The only sensationalists here are the scientists. That synthetic bacteria genome did not translate into an actual bacteria as far as I know, or at least nothing anyone would consider as such.
Scott Davidson (San Francisco)
This would be a blessing for parents who want to adopt without having to worry about losing the child to its birth parents because there would BE no birth parents. We live in exciting times.
donald surr (Pennsylvania)
Anything that can be done will be done. Traditionalists, well meaning as they may be, have not, do not, and most likely never will rule the roost.
Zoe F (L.A, C.A)
I am disappointed seeing so many pessimists in the comments. The mention of a Pandora's box, by someone who calls themselves "hank," and "carryonjeeves," whose value on creativity and brilliance I otherwise support, says "Mr. Church and his select group are on a dangerous path." I am optimist. I understand the importance of ethics and dealing with scientific breakthroughs and projects morally (kindness goes so far with me I'm actually an absolute pacifist). Obviously. What I don't get is the lack of hope, and the abundance of fear. There is a story on a writing website called Wattpad, which I wouldn't normally advertise, called "The CRISPR Kids" by a user called hungergamessin. I would not tell you to look at the story if it didn't deal so optimistically about issues such as this. You should look at it, if only to recognize where people like me come from and why we think the way we do.
George (Cobourg)
I wonder what motivates scientist to work on projects like this? What is the problem to which this work is the solution?
callsup (USA)
Its the game that has been played since man has existed. The game of humans and gods. Humans are emotion machines and emotions govern this game. Humans have lived in fear of gods or have aspired to achieve god like status. The contents of this article is emblematic of the latter.

The nature of technologies/bio-technologies is that they must serve a human purpose. With artificial intelligence and creations like what are being discussed by these scientists on the horizon it begs the question of who is "playing" god in the modern information age. Technologies that evolve on their that put humans at existential risk are not truly serving a human purpose because they run the risk of lording over humanity and sapping human emotions machines of hope and faith.
Mark Wilson (California)
Synthetic biologists are working on eliminating our need for fossil fuels, for example by producing microbes that can generate hydrogen and long alkanes using sunlight. They are producing microbes that can synthesize human drugs, such as the successful effort that is cheaply and reliably producing artemisinin, the world's most widely used anti-malarial. The field has so much potential that your question is something like a person in 1940 saying "What motivates scientists to work on computers? What is the problem to which computers are the solution?". The New Yorker did a pretty thorough article on the field 7 years ago now:
jane (ny)
Perfect! We can breed a serf class of workers....bred exclusively not to mind being taken advantage of by the big corporations who pay them minimum wage. Oh wait.....already been done.
psmckean (San Diego)
It's not nice to fool Mother Nature ...
Max (Houston)
Did anyone actually read the article? Dr. Church states that their is no plan to create a human being. What's all the fuss about?
Carl R (London, UK)
As the technology is developed and published, whether a particular scientist has plans to use it is not relevant. The whole idea of science is public knowledge that anyone can use.

The meeting appears to be about better/faster/cheaper full genome DNA synthesis. A valuable step towards creating life forms on demand, be they yeast or mice or human. Why shouldn't you be able to sit down at your workstation, pull together some genes you think would be useful, and create a "starter cell" for an organism?
Sbr (NYC)
This project represents no intellectual leap of any kind just a feat of technical/technician bravado. In other words, it is not basic research which throughout history has often resulted in advances with dramatic impact for human health. The most recent data: six out of every 1,000 babies died at birth or in the first year of life in the U.S. in 2013, triple the rate of Japan or Norway and double the rate of Ireland, Israel or Italy. Black women had the highest infant mortality rate at 11 per 1,000 births. Cuban women had the lowest rate, at 3 per 1,000!
Let's not mention 20-40 million Americans with no or inadequate health insurance. The maestros (it's all men apparently!) at our Ivy Leagues need to get real; although they'll likely get money from hedge funds and not NIH for their hobbies, the places that allow work at this level are funded by tax payers who pay more than the Romney rate of 12.5% or the Trump rate (sorry, we're waiting on this) or many our big corporations who pay little or no taxes.
Thomas Payne (Cornelius, NC)
"Paging Mister Batty, Mister Roy Batty. You have a call on line one from Eldon Tyrell."
Dave (Colorado)
"Hello, thank you for visiting Genome On Demand. May I take your order?"
Howard G (New York)
Somebody already beat those scientists to it -- and the "secret" has been out since 1931 --

And yes -- they included a woman too....
George (Central NJ)
I find the thought of a human being being being created without human parents to be totally repugnant.
ron dion (monson mass)
OK who will provide the soul? good luck!
William Starr (Boston, Massachusetts)
"OK who will provide the soul?"

Presumably the same entity that's providing it now. Why should it make any difference to soulness whether a person's genetic code is a by-chance mix of that of two pre-existing humans or one that's was deliberately crafted by some other pre-existing humans?
Janice Duncker (Atlanta)
Today we take the first step towards disposable humans. Science is awesome except when it's dangerous.
Carl R (London, UK)
As Joseph Stalin said, a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic. Disposable humans have been with us for a long time. Keeping on top of the politics so that people become less disposable is a never ending task.
William Starr (Boston, Massachusetts)
"Today we take the first step towards disposable humans."

Oh we already have plenty of those, and always have. We call them the poor and the powerless.
Ron Grube (Minden NE)
It might be possible but is it ethical? I have no dote that it will be done if it hasn't been done already. That doesn't make it right.
Don Smith (Ohio)
I'm all for it, same as I am for AI. Only a coward is afraid of advancement, meaning of course anyone with a religion. It is high time we breed the defects out of the race, but since no one wants to do that, this is the next best thing. To be honest, I'll take the company of robots, Ai or programmed over the company of a sapien any day, any time. After 52 years living around people, I have learned to despise everyone but the best and highest intelligence of this worthless species. Best thing that could happen is that we get replaced, and better sooner than later.
Cal (Ardsley, NY)
I didn't know we needed any more human beings. I thought we already had too many.
Times Reader (Toronto, ON)
I feel like the only word I read in this article was Harvard.
Dee (Detroit)
freyda (ny)
How about synthesizing the genome of something that could replace oil. That would be genuinely useful.
Harvey Wachtel (Kew Gardens)
I can't help but smile when I think how far off base those science fiction writers of my youth (that would be the late fifties) who thought the action would be in outer space were.
Jenny Mann (Virginia)
Why do we want more human beings?
Rob (Ny)
To harvest their organs of course.
Xenophon (Georgia)
It would be interesting to see clones of people like Michaelangelo, Mozart, Washington and Einstein. It would be the ultimate test of nature vs. nurture, wouldn't it?
Jon Dama (Charleston, SC)
"to use a synthetic genome to create human beings without parents." In the future all men will look like Brad Pitt; and women just like Scarlett Johansson. Soooo - what's wrong with that? I mean - the Scarlett part.
almostvegan (Manhattan)
Looks like humanity is in the path to truly becoming gods instead of just believing it so.
What an amazing era we live in.
datnoyd (Brooklyn)
Why do we need to create "custom genome" human beings at all? The planet is awash in people. We are not an endangered species.
Bruce Rozenblit (Kansas City)
This is mind boggling. If we can create a cell or bacterium, we can create life. If we can alter a genome, we can alter life. The power for doing good is immeasurable and so is the power for doing wrong. The quest for profit using this technology could make our current $100,000 drug therapies look cheap. Add another zero if you want to save your baby from a debilitating disease.

Knowing full well humankind's propensity to do wrong, these investigations should be held out in the open. Unrestricted capitalism should not be unleashed upon this technology. Ethics concerning life altering therapies must be enforced. Private meetings are a big first step in the wrong direction.
Jimbo (Troy)
Correction, please: The possibility for good is huge, the possibility for harm, or terrific harm, is incredibly larger. What's worse, it falls into the realm of things that we don't know we don't know.

Einstein said, God does not play dice with the universe. This is worse, this is man playing dice with the universe. It should be approached with extreme caution.
codger (Co)
I wish this weren't happening but it is, and it is inevitable. This is where humans diverge into something else entirely. Some of it will be innocuous (want blue skin?) but most will be aimed at creating a race that will consider itself an improvement on humanity. When that happens, look out. The untransformed will be the underclass in an ever increasing spiral of mutations and "improvements". We will be vastly different. Will we be human?
Concerned Citizen (Anywheresville)
And because, of course, with 7 BILLION people on this planet (soon to be NINE BILLION), what we really really need are...more people.
Ronn (Seoul)
"We will be vastly different. Will we be human?"
There is already quite a few works of Science-fiction that address this same question. The purpose and intention of such was the point upon which so much depended upon. If the purpose and intention of scientists is fair and noble, then the results should produce the same results, despite the superstition and distrust of some.
Frank (Ocean Grove)
Personally, I have no problem with honest "scientists" meeting to discuss synthetically developing DNA. We are obviously on the cusp of a new technology with all kinds of promise for mankind's future. My primary fear is that our modern system of commercialization will lead us to improving pets before improving people.
Shonun (Portland, Oregon)
Quite aside from ethical considerations that arise around this science, one of most profoundly disturbing aspects, at least to those persons who believe in God, is that if humans are in fact able, finally, to create a living human body purely from synthesis based on DNA fragments, what does that say about how life was created? Or at least, what does that say to those who believe in human superiority and earthly dominion as ordained and created by God?

Insofar as many of that group reviles science, perceiving it as anti-religious or atheistic (instead of alternately viewing it as affirming the wonder of creation), I suspect they also subconsciously fear that it might reveal answers and processes which they will henceforth never be able to square with their religious beliefs, thus utterly undoing their paradigm of reality. History is replete with such examples such fear, to great and often violent extremes.

That said, this era is indeed a time to deeply ponder what we are about, given revolutionary technology marching forward such as brain-computer interfaces on the near horizon, and steady development of genome manipulation and/or reproduction sans womb. Politically and ethically, two words which are very hard pressed to be put together, are we ready for this?
LarryS (New York)
I am a Professor of biochemistry. My view has long been that our understanding of the genome and the molecular basis of evolution says nothing as to the existence of God. However, what it does say is that if God did create life, this is how God did it.

Evolution is not really in question anymore. The evidence is in the related DNA sequences of all organisms. We have compiled trillions of "words" of evidence in the DNA from thousands of species - all of which agree with evolution. Scientifically, it is settled. This, however says nothing as to whether God created the Universe and the physical laws and circumstances that guided evolution.
Concerned Citizen (Anywheresville)
Really, you think the ONLY objection to this Frankenstein disaster here is RELIGION?

I am not particularly devout, and I believe wholeheartedly science, evolution and technology. But this is something run off the rails. We have massive overpopulation destroying the environment. We don't need more babies. We can't even care for the babies that we already HAVE.

We certainly don't need ANY designer Frankenbabies from a test tube, with no parents to raise them or care for them or love them -- the world's orphanages and foster care and STREETS are filled with unloved, unwanted children.

Each of these mad scientists should adopt 1-2 of these needy children -- it might give them something more productive to do with their brains and their valuable time.
Shonun (Portland, Oregon)
Agreed, wholeheartedly. I find it immensely curious that those with religious beliefs (more often, anyway) seem to think evolution and God is an either/or argument rather than both/and.
Karl (Pullman, WA)
Let the effort and funding already put into HGP go instead toward solving the many diseases of humanity and providing health care, food and education to those in need. There is no ethical questioning in that direction, except why are we taking so long?
pw (California)
I was struck by the description of those working on synthesizing the genome of yeast, where it was stated that "the scientists are making changes, such as deleting stretches of DNA that do not have any function, in an attempt to make a more streamlined and stable genome." Stretches of DNA that 'do not have any function'? I think that might be more accurately "stretches of DNA that the scientists have decided do not have any function." How do they really know that? And why would it be their business to 'streamline' a genome? They really have no idea what that might create in the genome. And yeast is one thing, but none of those folks plan on stopping with yeast, either. Studying is good; learning is good. Creating new genomes, on the other hand, is not something any of us are qualified for.
LarryS (New York)
I used to say in jest that Superman was just a guy with no introns or low-complexity regions.
Ilya Shlyakhter (Cambridge, MA)
"Creating new genomes, on the other hand, is not something any of us are qualified for." -- none are qualified to have children?
Marina Frank (Washington)
If it can be done, then it shall be done. What is so worrisome is that any ethical considerations and repercussions are beside the point. They will not really stand in the way. The outcome for the rest of us humans does not seem to be considered with any real sincerity.
Rahul (New York)
This is a moral abomination in the making. To create a human being without a link to the human chain, the defines us from generation to generation, that gives us roots and belonging, and history, without a mother or a father, is repugnant in the extreme. The so called virtues of cost benefit analysis, of the relentless pursuit of scientific knowledge, unleavened by the slightest consideration for what havoc it might cause to us as a human species, should be rejected after not more than a minute of reflection. These brilliant, unwise men will destroy all of humanity as we know it.
Serviceman (WA)
Unwise men is why we need to do a better job managing the gene pool.
Mad Matter (<br/>)
The scientists are chomping at the bit to be masters of replication. There is one, true creative life-originating source and that is God our Heavenly Father.
Life replication is not a civil right by the way. Populating another planet with replicated humans without parents and relatives sounds like Hell to me.
David Illig (Maryland)
These scientists are about to prove you wrong. As far as is known, the one, true, original, creative life source was a stroke of random chance in a primeval mud puddle. Mythical, magical, invisible entities had no part in the process.
24b4Jeff (Expat)
As a physicist, I lament the decision of the organizers to hold their conference in secret. There are a few areas where scientific or engineering knowledge should not be widely circulated but this is not one of them. By choosing to hide their discussions from the public at large, they are only contributing further to the erosion of trust that already is a problem in this country, and to the cause of those who oppose science.
sarai (ny, ny)
So right, 24b4Jeff. They are also making themselves appear suspicious and acting as though they're doing something wrong or illegal which course they aren't. They should act list scientists, not bogeymen.
C. Taylor (Los Angeles)
It's scary to discover that people so intellectually brilliant can be so ethically challenged. Have they never heard the term "unintended consequences?" Dr. Church especially seems too full of himself to be able to seriously consider the moral and ethical implications of what he's trying to do.

Dr Minshull has put the true dilemma so cogently that even Dr. Church should be able to grasp it: “Our ability to understand what to build is so far behind what we can build. I just don’t think that being able to make more and more and more and cheaper and cheaper and cheaper is going to get us the understanding we need.’’

Get it, Dr. Church? So you can figure out how to make an entire genome in a test tube. Then what do you do with it? Hmmm??? Just because you can make it, Dr. Church, doesn't mean you should.

Harvard should put him on leave until he comes to his senses. And should put medical ethicists in charge of Harvard geneticists.
Concerned Citizen (Anywheresville)
The message of every sci fi horror film:


This is one of those things.
C.D. Carney (MB, SC, USA)
When we can predict the results of each modification we will build a brighter future. We will be rid of so many negative things that will be rendered museum pieces and relics of a darker age where sheer luck the lives of each of us who never asked to be born. To hide behind the false shield of ethics at this point in time where so many things that so many held sacred for so long are being... rewritten so to speak, it would be cruel beyond measure as well as the antithesis of ethical. Moratoriums don't exist to stop the research they exist to stop the technology. Plain, simple.
Mor (California)
This is awe-inspiring! The idea that we can write human genome like software is endlessly fascinating. We can learn so much about the process of development by changing certain segment of genome and observing the consequences. I simply cannot understand why people respond with doom and gloom to a technology that promises to teach us so much about who and what we are. Why is the prospect of designer babies so frightening? Is the current method of "natural" procreation that spreads defective genes and creates millions of sick and/or unwanted children any better? Sure, there are ethical choices to be made but it is true about any human activity. I suspect people are uncomfortable because a synthetic genome vividly remains us who we are: incredibly complex chemical machines.
hank (oneill)
i suspect people are uncomfortable with the concept of "..changing certain segments of the genome and observing the consequences" for moral and ethical reasons that are much more probing of fundamental questions of right and wrong, moral and immoral, ethical and unethical, wise and damnably foolish than what you have stated here. Perhaps you don't consider creating a genetic test subject to be as profoundly dubious as most, but I doubt you are on the right side of the debate.
wg (ny)
Why is the prospect of designer babies so frightening?

Why was Nazi eugenics frightening?
Chris (Minneapolis)
I suppose it was inevitable that a biotech capability like this would eventually enter the realm of the possible. And the first impulse, of course, is to drag out all the usual Orwellian/sci-fi/dystopic/conspiracy memes to give voice to the typical (and somewhat understandable) paranoia that accompanies such a technology. And while we certainly need to look at the potential for bad actors in application scenarios of this new, evolving biotechnology, we also must guard against embracing the paranoid spectacles of book and movie fictions which would overshadow the vastly more humble and realistic possibilities that will likely emerge. In short, let's not get dramatic.
Charles W. (NJ)
If something can be done, especially if there are profits or benefits to be derived form it, it will be done. If not in the US then in some other country which is not obsessed by self proclaimed ethicists.
carryonjeeves (tokyo)
Creative brilliance is often the flip side of mental illness: Van Gogh and Hayden for example both struggled with mental disorders.
Some scientists might claim such illness is the result of a defective gene and edit them out of the gene pool, if they were able and allowed to do such a thing. And we would never know what beauty and genius would be lost as a result.
Mr. Church and his select group are on a dangerous path.
Richard (Bozeman)
Gene editing is a different concern from synthesizing DNA, so not quite on point. Also your first sentence is wrong. Creative brilliance is RARELY the flip side of mental illness. There are great reasons to be careful with gene editing. This fantasy is not among them. Besides, great paintings do not make up for Van Gogh's horrible suffering.
hank (oneill)
While this is not the first example of human- created technology clearly outstripping anything like a consensus on the ethics of its application, it truly does strike me as an emergence to a new, even wider disparity between invention and ethics. Of course, I'm hardly the first to recognize that once Pandora's Box has been opened, its contents, horrible, beautiful or both at the same time, cannot be returned to the box- Terrible inventions cannot be forgotten. It is my sincere hope that these scientists recognize this. It is my sad expectation that they will not stop regardless.
Elizabeth Greene (Nashville, Tennessee)
The first human genome project developed technology that cut the time and cost to sequence a genome by three or four orders of magnitude. It's also been a springboard that's launched hundreds of new therapies. Those therapies are experimental today, but within my lifetime have the possibility of curing many aging related diseases and obesity. The most exciting technology grandchild is called CRISPR, and has already revolutionized how we identify targets for drug and gene therapies.

If the brains behind the original Human Genome project can make the sequel even half as good as the first one then I'm all for it. They've demonstrated fiscal responsibility, outstanding creativity, and remarkable results. In my book they have also earned the benefit of the doubt on the ethical question.

How can I help?
Nuschler (anywhere near a marina)
How can I help?

Let’s start with educating 80% of a public that still believes that a “god” created our world. We are nowhere evolved enough to understand how genes even work.
We are still trying to figure out how a ball of undifferentiated cells that has multiplied from a sperm and an egg even produces a human being. What triggered a cell to go from a stem cell (a cell that can potentially become any SPECIFIC cell) to a cardiac cell--a cell that actually pulsates 40-50 times a minute lying by itself in a petri dish. A cardiac cell that becomes part of cardiac muscle that can beat 80 times a minute, 60 minutes an hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year WITHOUT going to fatigue--getting tired out. Our skeletal muscles tire out. There is NO ONE who can run without stopping for years without rest. So how is a cardiac cell different from a skeletal muscle cell? And how did it differentiate that way?

We are only in the beginning stages of understanding start and stop mechanisms for these genes. We are aware of 25 different genes that are responsible for eye color. But what ELSE do these genes control? Are these genes also responsible for keeping our retinal tissue healthy? If we manipulate a genome so that we can have a blue-eyed child, we may also be triggering a mechanism where the child goes blind at age 21 of complete macular degeneration.

What genes control empathy, sociopathy, schizophrenia? We know so LITTLE that so many things can go wrong.
Nick Metrowsky (Longmont, Colorado)
It is one thing to map a genome; it is quite different to make one. Besides ethical and moral questions, hat happens if they implant an engineered genome in any any egg, and something goes wrong?

Science fiction is full of scientists playing in areas where they have no business going.

Right now, we have Genetically Modified Food and they are are working on genetically modified mosquitos. No one knows the long term risks of introducing either into world.

There is a ban on cloning. There should be a ban on genetic experimentation as discussed in this article. Humankind has spent its existence on trying to wipe themselves out and the world with it. This is one of those situation, in the wrong hands, or by accident, could have serious consequences.
Jerry Vandesic (Boston)
That Mr. Church would hold the rights of a publisher over the rights of the public says a lot about his own moral compass. If this is the kind of person that is helping guide the science of the gene, he needs to step aside and let someone with a stronger sense of ethics step in.
Pm (Honesdale, PA)
Taking the super long view here, it might be the only way for human beings to be able to travel in space and colonize other planets; synthetic DNA in a very small vessel with robots programmed to carry on full development once it has landed on a habitable planet.
Karen (California)
What an interesting idea-- and yet, I wonder why this might be seen as a laudable goal. We are already destroying this planet; would we do any better colonizing another?
Concerned Citizen (Anywheresville)
And of course, there is no possible way that having robots raise synthetic, parentless humans in isolated space ships for generations could possibly ever go wrong.

Dude, do you ever even read any science fiction?
Pm (Honesdale, PA)
Not really, although I recently read Frankenstein and loved it!
Of course everything would go 'wrong', although I prefer to say everything would go 'different'.
It's a good idea for a story, isn't it?
J (New York)
The excuse for secrecy is naive at best: journals, including the prestigious Science and Nature, are more than happy to have authors discuss their research in public before publication. Science and Nature are also happy to have authors publish "pre-prints" of the paper publicly available on the internet--it will have no effect on whether the paper is published. There is absolutely no need to keep a meeting secret in order to ensure that a paper is published, and I should know, since I'm an editor at one such journal. The secrecy of this meeting strikes me as bizarre.
Dean's response to Yale (New Haven)
Surprisingly sensationalist title for NYT, then actual article gradually undermines the title. Online editing work in progress!
Jack Lee (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
So many people wittering on about "secret".

"Private" does not mean "secret", people. Private means you can get on with things, discuss issues, without interference and media jumping to conclusions.

It means you can get on with a project, finish it, THEN reveal what it is, if it's successful.
Scientists, like capitalists, the pentagon, law enforcement, the NSA, Homeland Security, and of course defence contractors and their pet lawmakers and lobbyists, will always make whatever is possible to make, and keep DARPA and their pet universities and "research" centers working on more, and more, and more.

Control, power, profit, greed, dominion, hegemony. Not necessarily in that order -- that's what we have elections to determine.
MJR (Stony Brook, NY)
Even if we could - of course we shouldn't. Using a temporary title like " HGP2: The Human Genome Synthesis Project" was highly irresponsible and unnecessarily provocative . Talk about "tin ears" ! How could such intelligent and creative people be so dumb! And now for the next decade, molecular biologists everywhere will be confronted by know-nothing congressmen asking whether their work will be used to make artificial humans.
SoCal Observer (Southern California)
Scientists have the right to meet "secretly" just like everybody else. The question is what do we do with this knowledge. The base technology may be a huge step forward in understanding how genes interact with each other. The genetic world of disease is much more than just SNP's and STTR's.
There is an even a more fundamental existential issue at play here. No matter how long it takes to actually synthesize a human being the theory of our ability to do so has been confirmed awaiting further technological advancements.

Think about what I just wrote. i could just as well be describing the creation of a more advanced robot. My point is that our existing limited definition of life is being exposed as fatally flawed based on facts on the ground.

And Life will never be the same again. Ever.
O Paco (Bergamo)
Sensationalist article trying to raise pseudo-ethical concerns...Obviously it was not "secret" enough... or maybe nobody expected the NYT to report like a tabloid.
Aaron (Boston, MA)
If I had a billion dollars, I know another thing I'd be funding.
Concerned Citizen (Anywheresville)
"If I had a billion dollars
If I had a billion dollars
Well, I'd buy you a monkey
Haven't you always wanted a monkey?
If I had a million dollars, I'd buy your love..."

(apologies to Bare Naked Ladies)
Jor-El (Krypton)
Why don't they just use the Genesis Chamber from Man of Steel?
And of course, being that we are the exceptional country in all respects, and the focus of all of our concerns -- see the Stone (?) article the other day, about how our tradition of study and granting PhDs in Philosophy means turns left at Greece and stop about a hundred miles west of Manhattan, as opposed to World Philosophy -- we can surely rest assured by our American scientists here on the case that there are no scientists in, like, I don't know, China? Japan? South Korea, maybe all educated here, but even that's hardly even necessary any more, so like maybe in the UAE, North Korea, Scandinavia, Germany, Pakistan even? Brazil? Probably not Trump University anyway.

Nah, only our handful of scientists, known to each other and brought to their very own secret meeting, the world & its risks are all in. Scientists out.
Adeline (Minneapolis)
Hopefully now we can end painful, fatal diseases and make the world a better place. Will that happen? Probably not, but who knows?
Lisa Wesel (Maine)
Just to play devil's advocate, what happens when we "end fatal diseases"? Barring a fatal accident, do we live forever? That should never be the goal of science, unless the goal is for humans to destroy the planet even faster than we are doing right now.
Bhaskar (Dallas, TX)
Putting ethics and morality aside, the possibility of creating new sustained life without parents is like creating energy from nothing -- which, as we know, is antithetical to the laws of physics.
If that were indeed true, why did Nature invent such a complex process for pro-creation ? .. unless we were all synthetically created to begin with.
Jay (Florida)
If scientists are holding secret meetings to consider creating a human genome I hope that first they consider the eugenics experiments and philosophy of the Nazis. I'm not afraid of Frankenstein. I'm afraid of selective creations without ethical and moral considerations. I'm afraid of engineering not monsters but empty vessels without human emotions and feelings.
A lot of sunlight would do this experiment a great deal of good. This may be the right path to follow but it may also result in unknown consequences that we can't imagine. We need the insight and review of the general population. Secrecy is not an option. It's a recipe for disaster.
V P (Boston)
Those advising the "insight and review" of the general population are either joking in bad taste or painfully naive.

All of us who are connected to the scientific community and understand the considerations that go into this type of project know exactly why it was chosen to be conducted in this way, and a vast majority agree with it. The opinions of those that have no idea how any of this works would not add absolutely anything to the discussion.

This is an engineering project, plain and simple. Cloning would be a much easier way for menial projects like recreating Einstein or whatnot. The understanding gained from building block by block would largely be on the side of the complexities of nucleic acid engineering.
Jay (Florida)
"All of us who are connected to the scientific community and understand the considerations that go into this type of project know exactly why it was chosen to be conducted in this way."

I am so heartened to learn that "All us connected to the scientific community understand..." imagine the ignorance that would prevail without that great understanding.

Sorry VP Boston. A great many engineering projects receive external input from non-professionals. It matters not one iota that this entails "complexities of nucleic acid." What matters is the potential outcomes that will most certainly affect others. We don't build complex electrical grids or other infrastructure without assessing the risk to communities. We don't build gas pipelines, or utility right of ways without public input and we don't build roads or bridges without public input either. The same goes for schools, hospitals, dams and nuclear power plants.
The general public may not be scientists or engineers but they understand when their families, homes, future and health are at risk.
When scientists talk privately we are all at great risk.
dca (Connecticut)
This cannot be done without trust.
Someone has to figure out how the protein dance is done in order to effectively combat disease. But the money won't be there unless the process is transparent - which it cannot be even 'if it is'. Us folks need to be educated on the science (spectacularly complicated) to even see what is going (much less understand it to be able to contribute to the discussion and OK the funding). We are relegated to 'carrying pitchfoks and torches' otherwise.
So let's start learning it now.
Helen Salz (Cleveland)
Did George invite any women. Or was this a boys only project?
Concerned Citizen (Anywheresville)
Duh, what do you think?

Only boys in clubs think about creating "designer Frankenbabies" but don't think about who will diaper that baby or cuddle them or stay up all night when they are feverish or teach them how to play pattycake or how to walk.

I guess they think human beings are like Topsy, who "just grew".
sarai (ny, ny)
As Good reason, Maryland reminds females are needed to gestate and give birth to a child so of course women should be included in this project. As we all know however, men don't always make sense.
Wit held by request (The Bronx)
I don't see the problem. We are doing the same thing inorganically as well by ever more closely approximating superintelligence using computers--and when it's time, Homo Sapiens will pass just as the Neanderthals or the Denisovans did.
Vanessa Hall (Millersburg MO)
I want Wolf Blitzer to interview Dr. George Church. But yes, this is certainly something that can lead one to think extreme scenarios. Population control via procreation without sex for starters.
Richard Luettgen (New Jersey)
I'd like to make a joke about satisfying the dream of millions of sensible human beings and screening out whatever gene combinations result in an adult liberal, creating the perfect human species; but this is too awesome for humor.

This is just scary. Everyone would look like the lab tech mixing the cocktails which, in all likelihood, would have all of humanity eventually looking like he just escaped the Punjab.
C.D. Carney (MB, SC, USA)
Considering the lack of sperm banks that have cases of techs purposefully inserting their own genes into the ova...
Malika (Northern Hemisphere)
I don't trust anyone to secretly meet in a democracy, for anything. Especially not scientists (Frankenstein). We have seen what secret meetings create with bankers and price fixers. Someone with guts, and a brain, put a stop to this!
Adeline (Minneapolis)
Right, because having all natural humans, complete with Tay-Sachs disease, hemophilia, schizophrenia and psychopathy is so much more effective.
Don B (Indianapolis)
Absolutely. No family reunions without social media. No physician conferences without reporters. No one should meet secretly in a democracy. We might need to forbid dating too.
robadude32 (NJ)
But this is exactly how thing will be enacted especially in other countries like China if they haven't done this already and are probably years ahead. It will only spur George Orwell's 1984 that much faster.
John M. (Upstate, NY)
I can understand the project's desire for secrecy. Presenting a public discussion prior to knowledge of the actual details of the project can be more sensational than informative.

The article's headline is a case in point. The word 'secret' implies an attempt to conceal when, in fact, the details are to be publicly presented in a different venue, a peer reviewed journal. Including the speculations of bioethicists prior to knowing the details of what is under consideration is another.

I question the author's use of the phrase "the maverick genetic scientist" to impart a subtle suspicion of J. Craig Venter as non-orthodox and therefore irresponsible.

I mistrust the method of substituting sensationalism for hard data, and the risk of misrepresentation involved in a premature discussion based on the summary of an event.
David Waring (Seattle WA)
I agree with you this is a little slanted. As for Venter, his attempt to scoop the rest of the scientific community with the sequence of the Human Genome and other behavior like trying to patent genes before he had even learned what they do earned him some other monikers, maverick would be considered a polite one.
24b4Jeff (Expat)
In fact, the research should only go forward with the support of an informed, educated public and with a healthy debate concerning the moral and ethical choices that are being made. Secrecy serves none of those purposes.

By choosing to hold their conference in secret, the organizers invited the wild speculation that is bound to erupt. But perhaps that is their aim, to discredit anyone who expresses anything other than approval as a crackpot.
Good Reason (Maryland)
Of course the child will have a parent--the female being who gestates that child, shares uterine environment and cells and epigenetic with that child, gives brith to that child, is indeed a parent to that child. That female is rightly called the child's mother.
me (nyc)
not if ectogenesis comes to fruition.
Nancy Robertson (USA)
Artificial wombs will one day eliminate the need for a woman to carry a baby to term. Embryos are already fertilized in the lab and transplanted after a few days. I read this past week that scientists had succeeded in growing a human embryo in the lab for 14 days. And at the other end of the process, incubators in NICU's serve as artificial wombs for babies born as many as four months too early. So, it's only the middle four or five months that still require the old fashioned human method.
Daniel (Greece)
Yes, but the idea here is that the child will not share any genetic material with an actual person. It misses the point to pretend the absence of biological parents are insignificant, or not profound and troubling.
Kay (Connecticut)
Scary. I'm sure it will be beautiful and useful, too. But, scary.
See also