Launched on the pages of the journal Science and with a presentation organized recently in Boston (USA), the GP-write (Genome Project-write) project is now getting down to specifics: a very ambitious (and controversial) initiative, which was announced in 2016, but that is only taking its first steps now, with the aim of creating synthetic cells that are super-resistant to viruses, but also a priori, radiation, tumor degeneration and senescence, to be used for laboratory research in different sectors of medicine and biology.
Why create these super-cells? The cells that are normally used for medical research are often contaminated by various types of agents, which also generates huge losses for biotechnological companies, lengthens the time required to perform studies and renders them more difficult. According to advocates of the GP-write (a group of specialists from various countries), the super-cells would be useful in many fields of biomedical research, as well as in other sectors, like agriculture, chemistry or energy.
Obviously, however, the idea of producing customized cells from scratch, different from those found in nature, poses serious ethical questions, and this is why the coordinators of the project suggested the creation of an international consortium, managed with very strict criteria and as transparent as possible, with a multidisciplinary group of researchers. The companies and research institutes that will join the consortium will be obliged to render the advances made known and to also discuss them with the representatives of civil society, such as bio-ethics experts, jurists and journalists, etc.
The question of financing remains, which will be sought from international bodies and institutions. The creation of the super-cells will require at least ten years, with an enormous quantity of work: no less than 400,000 changes need to be made to the genome in order to recode a single cell and these changes are to be made to all of the 24,000 genes found in human cells. The technical tools currently available enable the majority of these changes to be made. In particular, a genetic editing system called DNA recoding TALEN will be used. But other techniques will also be developed.
Journalist since 1983, has been dealing with scientific divulgation for years, especially in the fields of medicine and biology. Creator of Sportello Cancro, the site created by corriere.it on oncology, in collaboration with the Umberto Veronesi Foundation. He collaborated with the pages of the Science of Corriere della Sera for several years. He is currently President of the Lugano Science Foundation.