Cambridge, Massachusetts – On Tuesday, 150 scientists were invited to a private meeting at Harvard University. There, the attendees were asked to not tweet and discuss the topics of the meeting to the media or any other colleague.

The main goal of the meeting was to discuss the creation of an intact human genome or creating the code of a human being from point zero.

Scientists held a private meeting in Harvard to discuss the creation of a human genome
On Tuesday, 150 scientists held a private meeting to discuss the creation of an intact human genome. Credit:

The private meeting has raised eyebrows since critics are questioning the ethical reasons of creating a parent-less human being and the costs of it.

Synthetic DNA

The private meeting was held at Harvard Medical School in Boston to discuss the possibilities of writing synthetic DNA.

According to the New York Times, this initiative could be a follow-up project to the Human Genome Project that discussed the possibilities of reading the sequence letters in the human DNA.

Harvard researcher and organizer of the event, George Church,  stated to the Washington Post that the main goal is to “go beyond reading to actively writing it.” If synthetic DNA could be made, scientists would be able to implant this into cells.

Designing synthetic DNA would mean that scientists are not modifying pairs of genes in an already existent human DNA, yet they will be able to manufacture an animal or a human being from scratch.

Critics of the project

The invitation to the event, uploaded by Drew Endy, an associate professor at Stanford University who did not assist to the event, explains the importance of the “close invitation meaning.”

“This is a closed by invitation scientific session, meaning we are not publicizing it through press releases or media briefings or in any other way. We intentionally did not invite the media, because we want everyone to speak freely,” reads the invitation to the event uploaded by Endy.

Drew Endy shared the invitation on his Twitter account on May 9 assuring that if the meeting needed secrecy it meant “doing something wrong.”

Laurie Zoloth, professor of medical ethics at Northwestern University, who was also invited to the meeting, published an article on the Harvard meeting and the ethical questions that would emerge from it.

A response from Harvard

After the news spread around the media, George Church, an organizer of the event, told the New York Post that it all had been a big misunderstanding and clarified that the meeting was not to discuss the creation of new human beings, but cells.

Church then explained that the team of researchers was looking at all types of cells – not just human – and wanted to discuss the possibilities of a synthesized DNA.

The organizer explained that journalists and reporters were not invited because a paper has already been promised to a well-known scientific journal and it had to remain a secret, before the publication.

Church also explained the meeting was called The Human Genome Synthesis Project (HGP2) until it was changed to Testing Large Synthetic Genomes in Cells.

A video from the event will be released along with the article.

Source: New York Times