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Call for Guidance

Harvard researchers are calling for the development of guidelines to govern synthetic biology studies of tissues derived from human pluripotent stem cells, NPR reports.

In an article appearing in eLife, Harvard's George Church and his colleagues note that synthetic biology approaches can now allow researchers to develop what they term 'synthetic human entities with embryo-like features.' (NPR notes that others call them embryoids.) The scientists add that because these entities don't have to develop along the same path as typical embryos, they could bypass the current decree that research conducted on human embryos cannot allow them to develop past the 14-day mark, or about time of the appearance of the primitive streak.

"But now with these tissue engineering and stem cell techniques you can simply go around that," Harvard's John Aach tells NPR. "You could create something at a point beyond that. It might become sentient."

Church, Aach, and their co-authors thus call for research into the bioethics and moral concerns brought up by these studies. "Ultimately we should like to see a commission established to set guidelines for SHEEF research, but we have argued that this should be done only after the exploratory inquiries have laid this informational and conceptual groundwork," they write in their paper.