Azara Blog: Another step forward in creating life from scratch

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Date published: 2008/01/24

The BBC says:

An important step has been taken in the quest to create a synthetic lifeform.

A US team reports in Science magazine how it built in the lab the entire set of genetic instructions needed to drive a bacterial cell.

The group hopes eventually to use engineered genomes to make organisms that can produce clean fuels and take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Publication of the research gives others the chance to scrutinise it. Some have ethical concerns.

These critics have been calling for several years now for a debate on the risks of creating "artificial life" in a test tube.

But Dr Hamilton Smith, who was part of the Science study, said the team regarded its lab-made genome - a laboratory copy of the DNA used by the bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium - as a step towards synthetic, rather than artificial, life.

He told BBC News: "We like to distinguish synthetic life from artificial life.

"With synthetic life, we're re-designing the cell chromosomes; we're not creating a whole new artificial life system."

The distinction Smith is trying to make between "synthetic" and "artificial" life is rather artificial. Instead of making poor excuses to appease the naysayers, he should just be noting that it's another great step forward for biologists.

And of course some people "have ethical concerns". Some members of the academic middle class have concerns about everything, especially new technology, because they are stuck somewhere long in the past (usually 1850 or before). Fortunately, as with all other technology, they will not be able to prevent the world from moving forward (although they might be able to prevent it happening in certain countries).

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