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Elspeth
05-23-2010, 09:42 PM
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/7745868/Scientist-Craig-Venter-creates-life-for-first-time-in-laboratory-sparking-debate-about-playing-god.html


Dr Craig Venter, a multi-millionaire pioneer in genetics, and his team have managed to make a completely new "synthetic" life form from a mix of chemicals.

They manufactured a new chromosome from artificial DNA in a test tube, then transferred it into an empty cell and watched it multiply – the very definition of being alive.

The man-made single cell "creature", which is a modified version of one of the simplest bacteria on earth, proves that the technology works.

Now Dr Venter believes organism, nicknamed Synthia, will pave the way for more complex creatures that can transform environmental waste into clean fuel, vaccinate against disease and soak up pollution.

But his development has also triggered debate over the ethics of "playing god" and the dangers of the new technology could pose in terms of biological hazards and warfare.

"We are entering an era limited only by our imagination," he said announcing the research published in the journal Science.

Dr Venter, a pioneer of genetic code sequencing and his team at the J Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland, have been chasing the goal for more than 15 years at a cost of £30m.

First they sequenced the genetic code of Mycoplasma genitalium, the world's smallest bacteria that lives in cattle and goats, and stored the information on a computer.

Then they used the computer code to artificially reproduce the DNA in the laboratory, slightly modifying it with a "watermark" so it was distinguishable from the original natural one.

Finally they developed a technique of stripping bacteria cells of all original DNA and substituting it with the new artificial code.

The resulting "synthetic cell" was then "rebooted" and it started to replicate. The ability to reproduce or replicate is considered the basic definition of life.

Dr Venter compared his work with the building of a computer. Making the artificial DNA was the equivalent of creating the software for the operating system. Transferring it to a cell was like loading it into the hardware and running the programme.

"This is the first synthetic cell that's been made, and we call it synthetic because the cell is totally derived from a synthetic chromosome, made with four bottles of chemicals on a chemical synthesizer, starting with information in a computer," said Dr Venter.

"This becomes a very powerful tool for trying to design what we want biology to do. We have a wide range of applications [in mind]," he said.

The researchers are planning to design algae that can capture carbon dioxide and make new hydrocarbons that could go into refineries.

They are also working on ways to speed up vaccine production, making new chemicals or food ingredients and cleaning up water, said Dr Venter.

While a major technological leap forward the life form is still incredibly simple in natural terms. Its DNA is made up of 485 genes, each strand of which is made up of one million base pairs, the equivalent of rungs on a ladder.

A human genome has 20,000 genes and three billion base pairs.

Nevertheless it is the beginning of the process that could lead to creation of much more complicated species, and into a world of artificial animals and people only envisaged in films such as Ridley Scott's Bladerunner and Steven Spielberg's Artificial Intelligence.

Professor Julian Savulescu, an expert in Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, said: “Venter is creaking open the most profound door in humanity’s history, potentially peeking into its destiny.

"He is going toward the role of a god: creating artificial life that could never have existed naturally.

"The potential is in the far future, but real and significant: dealing with pollution, new energy sources, new forms of communication. But the risks are also unparalleled.

"We need new standards of safety evaluation for this kind of radical research and protections from military or terrorist misuse and abuse.

"These could be used in the future to make the most powerful bioweapons imaginable."

Dr David King, director of the watchdog Human Genetics Alert, said: “What is really dangerous is these scientists’ ambitions for total and unrestrained control over nature, which many people describe as ‘playing God’.

“Scientists’ understanding of biology falls far short of their technical capabilities. We have already learnt to our cost the risks that gap brings, for the environment, animal welfare and human health.”

Dr Venter has called for reviews so that debate keeps up with the science.

He said: "It's part of an ongoing process that we've been driving, trying to make sure that the science proceeds in an ethical fashion, that we're being thoughtful about what we do and looking forward to the implications to the future."

Rockntractor
05-23-2010, 09:48 PM
Well DJ is there really a Venter?

djones520
05-23-2010, 09:49 PM
I watched something recently, I believe it was Steven Hawkings Discovery special, that made mention of the idea that there maybe untold number of alien civilizations in the Universe. The point he raised is that we may not have heard or learned anything of them because it may just be that when they get to a certain point of technology, they wipe themselves out.

We may very well be getting to that point. We had a couple of extremely close calls in the last century with the Cold War. Something like this may be our next great challenge at extinction.

djones520
05-23-2010, 09:49 PM
Well DJ is there really a Venter?

Huh?

Articulate_Ape
05-23-2010, 10:51 PM
I just hope these here scientists are thinking this all through. If I was to make a new life form, I'd make damned sure that all subsequent life forms had their asshole on the sole of their foot. I gots me my reasons.

noonwitch
05-24-2010, 08:43 AM
I just hope these here scientists are thinking this all through. If I was to make a new life form, I'd make damned sure that all subsequent life forms had their asshole on the sole of their foot. I gots me my reasons.



I'm not sure I want to know your individual reasons, but I think humans would have a definite advantage over such a species.

FlaGator
05-24-2010, 08:55 AM
I just hope these here scientists are thinking this all through. If I was to make a new life form, I'd make damned sure that all subsequent life forms had their asshole on the sole of their foot. I gots me my reasons.

That would be an interesting pair of shoes.

NJCardFan
05-24-2010, 09:45 AM
I just hope these here scientists are thinking this all through.

Reminds me of a line in Jurassic Park when Dr. Malcolm says, "But your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."

linda22003
05-24-2010, 11:16 AM
MY favorite line in Jiurassic Park: "Oh. Great. We're in the hands of the engineers."

asdf2231
05-24-2010, 11:42 AM
MY favorite line in Jiurassic Park: "Oh. Great. We're in the hands of the engineers."

Holy. Freaking. Cheese. :eek:

LOL!

Best line out of any of the Jurassic Park movies was: “Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and screaming.”

FlaGator
05-24-2010, 03:06 PM
My favorite Jurassic Park line


"AAAAACHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO"

NJCardFan
05-24-2010, 08:04 PM
Holy. Freaking. Cheese. :eek:

LOL!

Best line out of any of the Jurassic Park movies was: “Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and screaming.”
Of course there's this exchange between Malcolm and Hammond(paraphrasing):

Hammond: It's just a setback. When Disneyland first opened in 1955, nothing worked.

Malcolm: But John, when the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don't eat the tourists.

Ah hell, I guess it's time to turn this into a JP quote hijacking:

Ian Malcolm(Jeff Goldblum) had the best lines:

"I hate being right all the time."
"What you call progress, I call the rape of the natural world."
"Now that's one big pile of shit."
"I'm always in the market for the future ex-Mrs. Malcolm."

Grant: Looks like I'm out of a job.
Malcolm: Don't you mean extinct?

Dan D. Doty
05-28-2010, 12:04 PM
A NEW AGE OF GODS AND MONSTER - Bride Of Frankenstein, 1935