May 10, 2016 • Boston, MA

HGP-write: Testing Large Genomes in Cells

Hosted by: Jef D. Boeke, George Church, Andrew Hessel, and Nancy J Kelley

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The 25th Anniversary of the launch of the Human Genome Project (HGP-read) occurred on October 1, 2015. Successfully completed in 2003, HGP-read is now widely recognized as one of the great feats of exploration, one that sparked a global revolution in science and medicine, particularly in genomic-based diagnostics and therapeutics. Among the lessons learned from this historic Grand Challenge was the value of consortium-based research focused on the discovery of fundamental information and the value of large projects with daring goals for moving science and knowledge forward.

On October 31st, 2015, 26 leaders in the fields of genetics and synthetic biology convened at the Institute for Systems Genetics at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City to conceptualize and discuss the feasibility of a bold quest: synthesizing the human genome (HGP-write). HGP-write represents the next chapter in our understanding of the blueprint of life.

As defined at this initial meeting, HGP-write will be an open, international scientific research project led by a group of scientific leaders from multiple disciplines, including biology, chemistry, computational biology, engineering, social science, and ethics. The primary goal of the project will be to synthesize, or write, human-sized genomes in a cell line within ten years.

A new Grand Challenge, HGP-write is expected to galvanize the scientific community, foster international collaboration, engage a wide network of educational institutions, inspire the next generation of scientists, and accelerate research and development across diverse areas. The ability to efficiently write DNA could pull us forward into a better future.

On May 10th, 2016, more than 130 international scientists, industry leaders, ethicists and policy makers steeped in human biology, health and synthetic biology came together at Harvard Medical School in Boston for an expanded organizing meeting of HGP-write.
This meeting focused on the design and technical issues, ethical and social issues, and industry involvement of HGP-write.

The October and May meetings are part of a series of scientific discussions amongst the community that have been unfolding over the past several years. Initially, these meetings were focused on the synthesis and testing of yeast and bacterial genomes, the future of synthetic biology, and more recently, the synthesis of variations within large genomes (on the scale of the 3 billion base pair human genome) as a pathway to addressing some of the many global challenges facing humanity, including healthcare and the environment.

The original intent of the May 10th meeting was to be highly open and transparent in order to catalyze broad community discussion, including media presence on-site, a live video feed, a web site, and real-time social media dialogue. These plans had to be changed because the associated commentary was undergoing peer review at the time, and the publication’s guidelines strictly limited what could be discussed publicly.

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