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Make 'Em Resistant to Viruses

The leaders of the Genome Project–write (GP-write) want to spur the community to develop cells that are resistant to viruses, Science reports.

GP-write had an inauspicious start in 2016 when leaders, who include New York University Medical Center's Jef Boeke and Harvard Medical School's George Church, held a closed-door meeting to discuss the possibility of developing synthetic human genomes. This led critics like Stanford University's Drew Endy and Laurie Zoloth from Northwestern University to say such discussions should be "[p]luralistic, public, and deliberative," as they argued at Cosmos. The project leaders said the meeting was private because they had a publication in the works.

That publication, which came out June 2016 in Science, outlined the group's plan to work up to its synthetic genome goal by reducing the cost of genome engineering and testing large genomes through a number of pilot projects.

In the new proposal — which Science says was released in advance of a meeting today — GP-write leaders say "ultrasafe" cells could be developed by making some 400,000 changes to the human genome. In addition to building collaborations between synthetic biology labs, Science notes the resulting cells could have a practical use, as resistant cells could help drug companies avoid the pause in production that arises when their cells become infected.