May 20, 2010 @ 9:51 am
by Dhimant Parekh
This is perhaps one of the biggest and most important milestones in the history of mankind. Craig Venter has created the world’s first synthetic life form. The new organism was created in a lab entirely out of four bottles of chemicals.
Excerpt from the article in Guardian:
The new organism is based on an existing bacterium that causes mastitis in goats, but at its core is an entirely synthetic genome that was constructed from chemicals in the laboratory.
The single-celled organism has four “watermarks” written into its DNA to identify it as synthetic and help trace its descendants back to their creator, should they go astray.
“We were ecstatic when the cells booted up with all the watermarks in place,” Dr Venter told the Guardian. “It’s a living species now, part of our planet’s inventory of life.”
Details of this process in some other articles indicates that the creation of this new synthetic “life-form” did involve yeast as an intermediary. Does that still count as synthetic then? Keeping that minor fib aside, I believe this is an incredibly big achievement for mankind. Creating life was the prerogative of God and by imitating Him, man has reduced Him to a much lesser stature. That is of course based on the assumption that He existed in the first place. This particular experiment and all subsequent ones might well question that assumption a lot more strongly.
Andrew Brown raises interesting questions in his article titled “Has Venter made us gods?” Some points made by him:
The man who can make life can also give humans apparently godlike powers. “We are as gods and might as well get good at it” said the Californian visionary Stewart Brand 40 years ago; and Venter’s techniques should make it possible to engineer bacteria to do almost anything we can imagine, from cleaning up the oceans to supplying us with energy. The bacteria found in nature can work like the philosophers” stone, transforming almost any substance into anything. If we can design them to turn pollution into energy, that would be wonderful; but the same techniques could produce weapons of unparalleled cruelty and efficiency.
This is exciting stuff! God knows what the future will hold for all of us. Oh wait, change that sentence…