www.npr.org For the first time, scientists have synthesized DNA in the lab, put it into a cell, which is now growing and multiplying. This means that we're one step closer to creating life. But some bioethicists are asking: Are we playing God? And what happens if artificial organisms leave the lab?
A - I pasted the blurb BTW - I was mostly interested in what people think about the breakthrough and what it might prove and what it might lead to. Also, 'playing god' can be used metaphorically - as in the valid questions posed in MS's Frankenstein.
From the NPR article: "Up until now, organisms have come into being on their own, as it were; they've evolved on their own," Kaebnick says.
Not entirely true. Canis lupis familiaris, Felis silvestris catus, Bos primagenius taurus and B. p. indicus, and Ovis aries aries are just a few species that evolved as a result of human intervention, which is to say, not on their own.
It is a great technological achievement, but it's basically an extension of what Homo sapiens sapiens have been doing for 10,000+ years. Sophisticated Knowledge + Sophisticated Tools = Sophisticated Outcomes.
Are we playing God?
"Playing God" a moronic idea that holds humanity back. Any species able to manipulate it's environment to it's advantage (even if in the long term it turns out to be a disadvantage) will do so. We human beings are no different. Of course there are ethical concerns which ought be considered, but that's a separate issue. If there is a legitimate concern about 'playing God', then we may as well abandon medicine.
And what happens if artificial organisms leave the lab?
Anything from the organism dying because it can not survive 'in the wild', to a major pandemic that kills off 98% of the human population. The organism could even do what it was designed to do, and only that. But that's what biohazard protections are all about: systems and procedures together with containment facilities to study the organism. We're not all running scared because Smallpox, Anthrax, Ebola or any other deadly organism being studied might leave the lab that's just down the street.
What Venter has done is somewhat interesting, technically, to biology nerds like myself, but it is of very little consequence. At least, it doesn't quite live up to the hype attributed to it by the news coverage. Best case scenario, this type of synth-bio work will lead to new chassis for other synth-bio/genetic engineering work, replacing E. coli as the de facto model. If anyone is interested in the other side of synthetic biology I recommend checking out iGem's website. It is a undergraduate synthetic biology competition held annually at MIT. Read through the past years abstracts, cool stuff. Something else, all of the biobrick's created by teams are opensource and freely available, even to home enthusiasts, yup they're out there. Opensource is decidedly NOT Venter's style.