Wednesday, December 18, 2019

GP-Write: Quest for the Synthetic Human Genome


cen.acs.org |  In the 15 years since the Human Genome Project was declared finished in 2003, the cost of reading a whole human genome has plummeted to about $1,000. Scientists estimate that writing a full human genome with today’s DNA synthesis technology could cost upward of $100 million. That number was the group’s declared fundraising goal in 2016, but it still doesn’t have centralized funding dedicated to the task. This year, some GP-write participants suggested that patenting the ultrasafe cell line or technologies developed along the way could encourage financial support from investors.

“It may be essential,” said Kristin Neuman, executive director for biotechnology licensing at the patent firm MPEG LA. “Some of the scientists want to see everything open access. Others recognize the importance of intellectual property protection to incentivize private investment,” she observed. During the meeting, Neuman encouraged the group to consider patents for cells and technology developed by the group while still making the ultrasafe cell line available to researchers doing basic science.

GP-write cofounder Nancy Kelley said a systematic fundraising effort will begin soon. “A couple years ago we had a rocky beginning, and we really needed to do some work on straightening out the message,” she said. “I now believe we have something serious to talk about.”

Church added that more than 100 research groups involved in GP-write have their own significant funding. “I don’t think we are underfunded at this point; I think we just need to execute,” he said. Teams can now begin signing up for a chromosome, or part of a chromosome, to recode or help with technology development. “There are plenty of things for people to do today.”

At the end of the GP-write meeting, the group’s goals seemed at once more focused and much broader. Church said the group is not backing down from synthesizing a full human genome and that the ultrasafe cell line gives the consortium an immediate task with a clear payoff. But in the end, the GP-write story may be less about completing a project and more about uniting a multidisciplinary cohort of scientists behind something big.

“Our goals aren’t fixed in stone yet,” Church said. “Hopefully they won’t be fixed in stone even at the finish line.”.