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Many Edits, All at Once

The Human Genome Project-write may generate genomes of value straight off the bat, Harvard Medical School's George Church tells the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Proponents envision the HGP-write project a successor to the Human Genome Project, which they say was 'HGP-read.' In Science this summer, Church and his colleagues outlined their thoughts for the project. As GenomeWeb reported at the time, the project aims to synthesize entire genomes and could be used to develop disease-resistant human cell lines and organs for transplants. Stanford University Drew Endy and Northwestern University's Laurie Zoloth criticized the project on a number of fronts and questioned whether its proponents thought through whether such work should even be undertaken.

In the new Q&A at JAMA, Church says that transparency is critical and that papers exploring policy, ethical, social, and legal implications have accompanied their new tools and technologies.

In particular, Church says genome writing would likely entail large-scale edits.

"I like to think of it as bigger edits — more edits at once for projects that require multiple edit," he says.

For example, he notes that with an editing tool like CRISPR, one base out of many can be altered, but with a synthesis approach, a hundred edits could be made. This sort of change, he tells JAMA, could make a cell resistant to multiple viruses. One of the pilot projects is exploring developing transplantable organs from, for example, pigs, while another is sifting through variants of unknown significance to gauge what their effects actually are, he adds.