Skip to Content
Biotechnology and health

“Project Recode” aims to make human cells invulnerable to infection

A genome-writing consortium announced today that it intends to revise the genome of human cells in the lab so they resist viruses.

What’s recoding? A person’s genome uses three-letter “codons” (think AGT or CAT) to direct the assembly of proteins. But it turns out there are extra codons that aren’t needed. The plan is simple: get rid of them. That’s going to take some heavy-duty gene editing—more than 400,000 changes to about 20,000 human genes.

Who’s behind it: The project is the first big announcement by GP-Write, a private organization trying to hurry us up to the point where we can easily print human genomes. So far it lacks serious funding, but a gene-editing company, Cellectis, says it will donate its technology to the cause. The effort is expected to take about a decade.

Bad for viruses: Viruses use the missing codons to propagate in cells, so a recoded cell would be essentially virus-proof. The researchers say such “ultra-safe” cells could be good for the biotech industry, which uses human cells to manufacture drugs.

Are virus-proof people coming? That’s certainly a possibility, according to project leader George Church of Harvard Medical School. He once wrote that recoded humans would be the “climax” of synthetic biology.

Deep Dive

Biotechnology and health

Google helped make an exquisitely detailed map of a tiny piece of the human brain

A small brain sample was sliced into 5,000 pieces, and machine learning helped stitch it back together.

The effort to make a breakthrough cancer therapy cheaper

CAR-T cells could revolutionize the treatment of a wide variety of diseases, if only we can make them cheaper.

That viral video showing a head transplant is a fake. But it might be real someday. 

BrainBridge is best understood as the first public billboard for a hugely controversial scheme to defeat death.

Beyond Neuralink: Meet the other companies developing brain-computer interfaces

Companies like Synchron, Paradromics, and Precision Neuroscience are also racing to develop brain implants

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.