Harvard Health Letter

What is a synthetic human genome?

Ask the doctor

Q. I've heard that scientists are trying to create a synthetic version of the human genome. What does that mean, and why is it happening?

A. Think of the human genome as a string of pearls that is three billion pearls long. The Human Genome Project succeeded in reading that string. One group of scientists would like to develop technology for inexpensively and precisely writing that string. They argue it could lead to improved organ transplantation, vaccines, and medicines, and to new ways to fight cancer and infections. Although they are not interested in creating humans from synthetic human genomes, ethical concerns about what their work could lead to has caused many scientists, including the director of the National Institutes of Health, to raise a red flag. I doubt this project will move forward for some time, if at all.

-- Anthony Komaroff, MD
Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Letter

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