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How big a step is Synthetic Life?

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  • How big a step is Synthetic Life?

    Earlier this year geneticist J. Craig Venter estimated that molecular biologists would be able to design a complete and viable organism from scratch in about ten years time - a completely synthetic life form. Researchers have already created viable natural viruses by combining the amino acids described by their DNA in the laboratory.

    Venter is probably in a better position than most to make such an estimate. He invented the polymerase chain reaction [PRC] that allows researchers to make unlimited copies from micro-gram samples of DNA. One of his current projects is reduce a current natural bacteria to a minimum natural genome by deleting non-functional genes.

    So it is only a matter of time before the next logical step - designing and building a cell [probably a bacteria] solely from 'genes' selected and built by humans. A completely novel species with no natural ancestor at all.

    Will this be the Fountain of Youth or Pandora's Box? Are we about to create rice that grows in salt water or a plague that kills only people with blue eyes?

    I've provided a multiple choice poll and would like to hear your thoughts.
    The key to immortality
    A way to end famine forever
    A way to reduce global poverty
    An interesting technology that will change our lives only incrementally
    A risky technology that should be carefully controlled
    A dangerous concept that should be outlawed
    A greater threat than nuclear weapons
    The beginning of the end of the human race
    Other [my favorite category]

    The poll is expired.

    Last edited by GCoyote; 06 Sep 07, 20:10.
    Any metaphor will tear if stretched over too much reality.

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  • #2
    No you haven't

    Meh, in the end it's either I suppose...the splitting of the atom left us with a weapon of terrible power, yet also a method of creating cheap energy. Could go either way - pessimisim of the intellect and optimism of the will, and all that.
    Colonel Summers' widely quoted critique of US strategy in the Vietnam War is having a modest is poor history, poor strategy, and poor Clausewitz to boot - Robet Komer, Survival, 27:2, p. 94.


    • #3
      Ahhh I can't find the article now.

      There was recently a huge breakthrough on the way to completely artificial life recently.

      The first barrier that people predict will be cracked within a few years (at least in a preliminary way) is to in fact create a barrier. Creating a selection cell wall is the first step.

      One of the things being talked about in terms of long term is that they'll likely abandon using DNA with only 4 bases, to build a similar function to DNA but with 10 bases to increase the amount of information storage (among other things).

      The big fear of course with creating an entirely new form of life from scratch is the ability for it to run rampant, but this is unlikely to be an issue for decades, even once the first steps are made, it'll be an achievement to keep such an organism around for hours.

      What is interesting is that researchers don't expect to have to completely reinvent the wheel, the idea is that they need to simply get a fairly stable life form going with ability to reproduce and withstand basic conditions, and nature will in fact take care of the rest (but we can't say what the process would be, that might scare/anger some folks).

      In regards to less severe steps (such as just taking a basic bacteria now or virus now) and modifying it to suit specific needs, the potential benefits (and yes in the wrong hands dangers) are astounding. There's already been research into using artificially created viruses and bacteria to fight various diseases.
      “To discriminate against a thoroughly upright citizen because he belongs to some particular church, or because, like Abraham Lincoln, he has not avowed his allegiance to any church, is an outrage against that liberty of conscience which is one of the foundations of American life.”


      • #4
        I voted A way to end famine forever, not because it would end famine (we produce enough food to end famine right now), but with the hope that we can produce tons of white truffles and purchase them at the same price as Maltesers. This would reduce the amount of fat people in the world, as we replace thousands of calories for a healthy and exquisite snack.

        Dad: "Do you want a bag of white truffles?"
        Mum: "Oh, aye, and one of those cheap bags of Beluga Caviar for the baby. He cannot chew yet"
        Dad: "Ok. Have you got some change? I don't want to use my last £5 note"
        Echo de menos mi isla.


        • #5
          How big a step is Synthetic Life?

          I picked "Other"...It will be a huge step - if it happens - But I don't have a clue as to what direction(s) it will lead us.

          Cloning is a tricky enough ethical issue...Artificial life - particularly sentient artificial life - requires an entirely new regime of bio-ethics.
          Watts Up With That? | The world's most viewed site on global warming and climate change.


          • #6
            Immortality? god, I want to live on forever, only because people never stop talking about me after I'm dead. I certainly don't want to be conscious indefinitely.

            As for dangers, there's always dangers. It's human to screw up.

            But I didn't pick any choices, because I can't really pick.

            Think on this, if we wipe out disease, will we cure our inability to just say no when we are horny? What are we going to do with all the people that don't die?

            Are we socially prepared for "what are we going to do with Pop?" not being a relevant question till he's 200 years old?

            If we eliminated pollution and made crops grow 3 times more productively, will that cover it, if our successes provide for a doubling of our population growth globally in half the time it would have taken?

            If I could put your "mind" into a machine, would you want me to do it, if you could live forever, yet never again, in a sheen of sweat, enjoy that 15 seconds of bliss at the end of playing with your wife? Could you give up the taste of a perfect steak, just so you could live forever? Would you miss the feel of sunshine on your face during a game of golf?

            I think in the next 100 years, mankind, if nothing happens to us, will likely unlock a lot of secrets, to which we simply might not have any use for.

            Do I need a bigger and better tomato? Probably not so bad. But, I would like it if science, rather than make the tool harder, could make oral sex taste better
            Life is change. Built models for decades.
            Not sure anyone here actually knows the real me.
            I didn't for a long time either.


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