Marsilius Academy 2023 - Public SessionSYNTHETIC HUMAN EMBRYOS: Bio-Technology, Anthropology, Ethics

Panel Discussion

In June 2023 both the public and the broader scientific community were confronted with spectacular and - to some - worrying reports about a major breakthrough in developmental Stem Cell Research: Several laboratories seem to have succeeded in replicating early stages of human embryo growth by creating embryos out of human stem cells. Further study of these ‚synthetic human embryos‘, which are very similar to natural embryos during the first 14 days of their development, may lead to major insights into illnesses, birth defects, and other processes occuring in these early days of ‚human life‘. At the same time, the status before the law of these creatures/creations is unclear as are anthropological, ethical, and moral questions concerning the handling and classification of them.

Jacob Hanna of the Weizmann Institute of Science and Ben Hurlbut of Arizona State University are both at the forefront of this current debate. Hanna - whose own lab is among the very few, who were successful in creating synthetic human embryos – is one of the world’s most exciting developmental biologists, today. Hurlbut is an internationally prominent scholar of bioethics and the philosophy of science, who is keenly aware of the challenges synthetic human embryos pose to more traditional understandings of the boundaries between the human and the non-human, the living and the non-living, the natural and the artificial.

As masterclass speakers for the interdisciplinary Marsilius Academy „[At the] Limits of Life“, Jacob Hanna and Ben Hurlbut will share their expertise with a selected group of international early career researchers, who come to Heidelberg for a week of intensive discussion and collaboration.

Wednesday evening’s open session is designed to present the issues at the heart of this topic in a more public format and allows for a lively exchange about a development, whose profound impact and significance even those closest to it may have yet to fully understand.

The Marsilius Kolleg of Heidelberg University, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), and the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research (MPImR) cordially invite all members of their respective institutions as well as the general public to join this event at the Alte Aula of Heidelberg University. 


Jacob Hanna, Professor of Stem Cell Biology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel
Ben Hurlbut, Professor at the School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University, USA


Jochen Wittbrodt, Professor of Developmental Biology/Physiology, Heidelberg University
Thorsten Moos, Professor for Systematic Theology/Ethics, Heidelberg University