Daily Archives: October 8th, 2007

Researcher develops artificial life

From Guardian Unlimited :

Craig Venter, the controversial DNA researcher involved in the race to decipher the human genetic code, has built a synthetic chromosome out of laboratory chemicals and is poised to announce the creation of the first new artificial life form on Earth.

The announcement, which is expected within weeks and could come as early as Monday at the annual meeting of his scientific institute in San Diego, California, will herald a giant leap forward in the development of designer genomes. It is certain to provoke heated debate about the ethics of creating new species and could unlock the door to new energy sources and techniques to combat global warming.

Mr Venter told the Guardian he thought this landmark would be “a very important philosophical step in the history of our species. We are going from reading our genetic code to the ability to write it. That gives us the hypothetical ability to do things never contemplated before”.

The Guardian can reveal that a team of 20 top scientists assembled by Mr Venter, led by the Nobel laureate Hamilton Smith, has already constructed a synthetic chromosome, a feat of virtuoso bio-engineering never previously achieved. Using lab-made chemicals, they have painstakingly stitched together a chromosome that is 381 genes long and contains 580,000 base pairs of genetic code.

The DNA sequence is based on the bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium which the team pared down to the bare essentials needed to support life, removing a fifth of its genetic make-up. The wholly synthetically reconstructed chromosome, which the team have christened Mycoplasma laboratorium, has been watermarked with inks for easy recognition.

It is then transplanted into a living bacterial cell and in the final stage of the process it is expected to take control of the cell and in effect become a new life form. The team of scientists has already successfully transplanted the genome of one type of bacterium into the cell of another, effectively changing the cell’s species. Mr Venter said he was “100% confident” the same technique would work for the artificially created chromosome.

Well well, the spector of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is indeed escaping from science-fiction to science fact finally. It was only going to be a matter of time before somebody finally accomplished this. And if Venter manages to implant his artificial chromosome into a cleaned out bacterium and it reproduces, it’ll prove that artificial organisms can be manufactured.

My Christian friends will certainly not like this development and actually deny that the creatures are life at all, just some kind of simulcrum, or “golem” at best. They will certainly say that without divine blessing of spirit, there can be no life.

There is sure to be ethical questions to be answered here, one of which is “where will be the line drawn?” Meaning if certain governments aquire the means to create artificial DNA, will they make super-soldiers, super-viruses or any other super weapon of mass destruction that makes hydrogen bombs and sarin nerve gas look like firecrackers and stinkbombs in comparison?

We are walking a fine line here. Mankind is once again, as it has done in previous cycles dared knock on the door of godhood. As a blog-friend once stated when he was describing G.W. Bush, I’m going to describe the maturity level of mankind in handling these awesome technologies; “…like a drunken chimpanzee with a loaded shotgun inside a warehouse packed to the rafters with fireworks .”

Original Article 

Hat tip to Christopher of From the Left