Scientists Hold Secret Meeting to Discuss Artificial Human DNA
Earlier this month, somewhere between 130 and 150 people (the number is in dispute) had a top-secret, invitation-only meeting at Harvard University.
They came from many different walks of life.
There were scientists. There were computer gurus. Entrepreneurs were invited. Lawyers attended. There were even government officials from countries around the globe present.
Complete secrecy was requested. Participants weren’t to talk to the press. They were not to tweet or post to other social media. The details of the proceedings were to be kept completely secret.
And so far, they have been.
The purpose of this meeting? To make a plan for creating a complete human genome from scratch within the next 10 years.
Let me say that again, in case I didn’t make it clear:
More than a hundred people, from all the professions needed to make it happen, had a secret meeting to talk about building human life from scratch. We’re not talking about inserting new genes in a DNA strand or removing existing ones. We’re not even talking about moving them around and seeing what happens. We’re talking about creating the DNA itself, each and every gene, from raw chemicals. We’re talking about writing the instructions for building a human being. We’re talking about creating artificial life. Completely synthetic life. Completely synthetic human life.
If mere GMO foods concern you, this should make your head explode.
This is NOT the Human Genome Project 2.0
Not surprisingly, the backlash over this top secret meeting has been strong. Even leaders in the fields of genetics and “synthetic biology” are appalled. Many have spoken out and several have published scathing criticisms, both of the end goal of the participants and of the way the meeting was organized. If you have to do something in secret, they say, then you must be doing something unethical or illegal.
Organizers of the meeting have since tried to spin the event in a more positive light, likening it to the Human Genome Project of the 1990s in which scientists mapped the human genome. Some have gone so far as to call this HGP (Human Genome Project) 2.0.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
HGP was a quest for knowledge. And more than that, it was a quest for knowledge that might lead to benefits for mankind as a whole. It was a double-edged sword, of course. Though it has led to a deeper understanding of some diseases and had some influence over treatment for others, it’s also opened up its own set of ethical issues. But the fact remains—it was intended for good and for the most part it has been positive.
This new project is something completely different. This isn’t an effort to understand the human genome. Because in spite of all the gene-related news stories you may read, we are still very far from doing that. It isn’t even about “editing” existing genomes and creating genetic modifications—though there are other projects doing just that with sometimes hair-raising results.
No. This is about building human DNA from its component chemicals then inserting it into cells. What possible reason could there be for doing this? Lots of things come to mind. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a single one that might have a legitimate use.
The meeting’s attendees aren’t talking. Not officially. But leaks say that part of the plan is to make human genomes, insert them in cells, and breed cell lines that run this “designer DNA.” How they intend to use these cell lines isn’t clear. And in fact, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense on a practical level. There’s simply no need to create a genome from scratch—anything they could accomplish with the designer cells could just as easily be done with natural cells.
And of course we get the old “but we’ll cure diseases with this!” argument too. It’s been suggested that there might be medical uses. These designer cells, we’re told, could be used to design new vaccines or for drug screening. They say these cells could even be used to “tailor therapies to match a person’s genes, or to enhance treatments by adding novel genetic instructions.”
Except we don’t need artificial human DNA to do that. We already have the technology we need for all those things. The justifications simply don’t make sense.
Guess who benefits from artificial DNA?
Unnatural experiments like this—and it is and experiment—always beg the question “Who profits from this?” And iff you guessed “Big Pharma” you’d be partially right. The biotechnology companies who synthesize this artificial DNA in the lab will be able to patent it. They’ll also be able to patent the cell lines that are created from it, and anything else that flows from the original DNA creation. And they won’t be the only ones.
The patenting of the DNA and its associated cell lines might be just the tip of the iceberg. Because although the project doesn’t have any funding yet, funding will come. Various entities and institutions have already been “invited” to contribute money and sources say that the federal government will be asked to contribute too. If you think this means asking the NIH or Congress for funding, you’re probably right. But that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the research dollars another government body already invests in biotechnology.
I’m talking about the Department of Defense, of course. DARPA, the research arm of the Defense Department, has its fingers in dozens of biotech pies from brain implants to the obscene human-animal hybrid project I talked about in another post. Just imagine how much they’d be willing to invest in designer-DNA projects. When you combine the possibility of DARPA funding with the most obvious applications of lab-created, patented human DNA, a very disturbing picture emerges. Because deny it as they will, there’s only one compelling reason to create DNA from scratch rather than “editing” existing DNA:
This is the first step towards creating “designer” people—with patented DNA. As one critic of the meeting said, “[this] meeting looks like a move to privatize the current conversation about heritiable genetic modification.” If this latest scientific “God project” succeeds, where will it end?
I’m afraid to imagine.
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