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Thirteen years after the completion of the Human Genome Project, scientists have announced the next major DNA agenda item: Human Genome Project-Write. While the focus of the original HGP was to identify and map the genes of human genome — and subsequently revolutionized science and medicine — HGP-Write is supposed to drive down the cost of genomic engineering while creating the framework to build and deploy a fully synthetic human genome in human cell lines within the next 10 years.

But reducing the cost of engineering and testing genomes, while scientifically advantageous, presents a problem: How do you ensure ethical engineering? While the vast majority of genetic engineering efforts are focused on things that are very good for us — growing transplantable human organs, engineering cancer resistance into therapeutic cell lines — the situation could head in a mad scientist, super-strong toddler direction pretty quickly.

Exactly how things could become unethical and what exactly is unethical is another question. For example, human germline modification, the practice of deliberating changing the genes passed to children, is currently banned in 40 countries. But how ethical it is to genetically modify a human embryos is still debated worldwide by scientists, ethicists, and legal experts.

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