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Will synthetic life do more harm than good?

18:10 UK time, Thursday, 20 May 2010

Scientists have developed the first synthetic living bacteria. What is your reaction?

The new microbe, dubbed "Synthia" by opponents, contains a DNA sequence designed and built by scientists. Its creator Dr Craig Venter hopes eventually to design and build new bacteria that can perform useful functions - such as producing medicines and fuels or even absorbing greenhouse gases.

But critics say there are dangers posed by synthetic organisms. Dr Helen Wallace from Genewatch UK, an organisation that monitors developments in genetic technologies, said: "If you release new organisms into the environment, you can do more harm than good. We don't know how these organisms will behave in the environment."

What is your reaction to this new microbe? Are you excited, or concerned, by the potential of synthetic biology? What limits, if any, should we place on research into synthetic living organisms?

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.

Comments

Page 1 of 7

  • Comment number 1.

    I doubt that it will do much harm at all. It will develop into valuable advances for mankind and our planet as a whole.
    For those who have an imaginary friend and think we are playing god, yes we probably are, and we are getting very good at it. It's no longer just nature that can create new life. People can do it too, although we are just part of nature ourselves really, aren't we!

  • Comment number 2.

    An historic breakthrough, from a dark corner from Pandora's Box.

  • Comment number 3.

    You can't control evolution.
    It only takes one of these bacteria to mate with another and you have serious and posibly extinction problems.
    Not a good idea.

  • Comment number 4.

    This is an incredible development with such amazing potential - for both great good and great harm. I would like to see this technology very carefully controlled so that the benefits can be realised without unleashing some new terrible weapon on the world.

  • Comment number 5.

    Synthetic life is absolute rubbish because real life is all that matters. It's insolent to behave like a creator of the whole world and there won't be any advantages of this research. It should be abandoned.

  • Comment number 6.

    This is a great discovery, and the potential benefits are unlimited.

    And yes, the potential dangers are unlimited. But if you look at every single thing invented in the history of mankind, there is nothing you can't say that about.

    Planes make world travel a lot easier and quicker. But you can hijack them and use them as ballistic missiles to attack buildings.

    Knives are good for hunting and fishing and cutting food, but can also be used for killing people.

    The majority of prescription drugs can be used to poison people, and yet I would say the majority of people would say that they are generally good things that save lives.

    From simple things like matches to insanely complex things like nuclear power there is nothing that can't be used for ill as well as good, but that is not a reason to use them.

    And if you stop scientific research because you think what you might learn could be used for bad, then you might as well stop all scientific research completely, and the country can return to the dark ages when religious dogma ruled the country.

  • Comment number 7.

    Existing natural bacterial organisms are already 'harnessed' and used to break-down our own waste in sewage farms - and contribute to breakdown of waste in landfills?

    With all of the above working with nature/naturally available bacteria - free of charge - obviously there is no intent to 'patent' a GM bacteria to do the same work? This is not a new story, or even a new invention?

    If this was 'true' bio-tech - fair enough - but ... ?

    Naturally - where there's money - someone has to re-invent and charge for the the wheel we already have and own - for someone else, again?

  • Comment number 8.

    "In 1979, The Progressive published the blueprint for the H bomb, so perhaps enabling India, Pakistan and South Africa to develop this weapon. Venter’s Science paper is not such a complete blueprint. But it may be the first part of it. In the mid-twentieth century, many physicists knew that their work could be used both to do much good and to inflict great harm. For the life sciences, though, this dilemma has never been as acute as it is now. Though other types of bio-science can be misused, the risk of misuse has never been as serious as it is with synthetic biology. There’s been a tendency to assume that the life sciences are unreservedly a force for good, and that we needn’t worry about their misuse in the same way that we must worry about nuclear physics. Synthetic biology means an end to the age of innocence for the life sciences. "

    http://www.practicalethicsnews.com/practicalethics/2010/05/venter-creates-bacterium-controlled-by-a-synthetic-genome.html

  • Comment number 9.

    As a species we are destined to push forward to create life and who knows in another 100 years people may never get disease or die because of the bit of history we are discussing today.

  • Comment number 10.

    We know from history that just introducing an existing animal from one country into another can have devastating consequences for the local ecosystem: I worry about the potential damage a new organism could do that doesn't have any built in 'destruct' button. What if a bug designed to 'eat' greenhouse gases evolves after a few years into something with a taste for oxygen?

  • Comment number 11.

    Anything that advances the understanding of science is a good thing; it's only the intent that's bad!

  • Comment number 12.

    Before this study continues we need to be sure that the "bacteria" doesn't mutate like all other organisms in this world do. We all know computers have flaws. This scientist is just in way over his head and he needs to slow down. This could do more harm than good. This could be a step toward ending global warming or it could be a step towards mind control. Watch out it is 1984 all over again.

  • Comment number 13.

    The science is very exciting. I'm all for it continuing. However, this science like GM, will be controlled by Corporations. We must some day develop the 'biological wheel' for mankind to take it's next big step to the saving ourselves.
    We keep getting promises of the desert blooming, and no possible risk of cross contamination. We end up with plants locked into one breeder and one type of herbicide, only a marginal advantage in yield, and herbicide resistant weeds everywhere. I would recommend that this technology stays firmly under the control of the Government until it's uses and problems have been determined.

  • Comment number 14.

    Whatch out not too long before the drug companies will be letting synthetic bacteria loose so they can sell drugs to cure the effects. Now that smacks of conspiracy theory but we shall have to wait and see.

  • Comment number 15.

    Created by man. They evolved. They rebelled. There are many copies. And they have a plan......

  • Comment number 16.

    Scientific creation of life is procreative and inspired. Technology opens the future to all possibilities.

  • Comment number 17.

    Synthetic Biology is about developing non-natural organisms that do something desirable that does not occur in Nature. There are lots of problems that nature has not yet had to solve (for instance the large scale production of anti-malarials) that it is of use for humans and many cases where we can improve on the solutions to specific problems that Nature has found (Nature stops refining its solution once survival is ensured). The one thing, however, that Nature does all but perfectly is evolve and adapt. Synthetic organisms will find it impossible to thrive in the real world, full as it is, of organisms competing ferociously, using every trick developed over millions of years to get the jump on their rivals. The overwhelming likely fate of a synthetic organism released into the wild is to become a quick snack!

  • Comment number 18.

    @ #3 Hairy Dog

    If you really think bacteria reproduce by mating with one another then I don't think you've got a right to comment on this topic.

  • Comment number 19.

    Great idea. Nothing can be uninvented so it's hardly worth arguing about.

  • Comment number 20.

    An incredible advancement indeed, and a step closer to science-fiction! I think much good can come of this, BUT!!! I do have my fears. How will this affect the ecological balance? We've seen that introducing species from one place to another (think earwigs or frogs) can cause devastating effects. Natural species are one thing, artificial species are another altogether. Growth rates, natural 'predators', mutations will definitely have to be investigated. Furthermore, accidental contamination could potentially cause catastrophes. What if these 'artificial life-forms' were the missing link for a new pandemic or new diseases to develop? I do not discredit this discovery, I just think we're one step closer to playing God, human creationism, and that might not be the best of things if we don't God's knowledge along with it. Elsewise, mistakes will surely happen. 'Artificial' life could have very little repercussions, or very large ones on our natural environment.

  • Comment number 21.

    We won't know the effects until it's actually 'out there', and not at this
    embryonic (no pun intended) stage.

  • Comment number 22.

    Ah, I can already hear the hysterical wails from the superstitious european anti-genetically-modified food crowd all the way across the pond. But I bet the obligatory HYS remarks from hand-wringing, human-loathing, earth-is-too-important-to-have-to-support-subsistence-living-peasants zealots can't top this one: Lets hope that when this BIG GENETICS technology gets out of control Mother Earth can use it as a defensive weapon to purge earth of the vile human species.
    Why do the human-loathers who gleefully imagine there is a wise and loving (yet oddly vengeful) earth with magic powers refuse to believe that maybe human intelligence can make life better for the peasant majority. Isn't it more humanistic to help them than wishing they were terminated? Not too long ago anti-nuclear power zealots prevented new plant construction in the US. Now they are realizing that the environmental harm, human health problems (and deaths) caused by coal, oil are far worse. Imagine that...zealots learning that considerng all sides of an issue is essential.

  • Comment number 23.

    It can't be as dangerous to the planet as the living organism 'human' when exposed to the environment.

  • Comment number 24.

    This topic is guaranteed to bring out the ill-informed among us. Me? I'm keeping my lip buttoned as I'm not qualified to answer

  • Comment number 25.

    10. At 7:33pm on 20 May 2010, Graphis wrote:

    "What if a bug designed to 'eat' greenhouse gases evolves after a few years into something with a taste for oxygen?"

    You mean like human beings and other animals?

  • Comment number 26.

    Oh dear - cue lots of brainwashed americans to tell us how terrible this is and what a risk it is to society and how it is an affront to their deity.

  • Comment number 27.

    Fantastic achievement... but just because we can does not mean we should.

    What is the process of oversight on all of this? Who makes sure that there can be no harm to us and the environment?

  • Comment number 28.

    Any technology breakthrough is a good thing for mankind as some breakthroughs in military science help in peaceful ways and improvements in peaceful technology can be used military applications. It's not the technology that causes harm but people and we shouldn't be worried about the technology just the people in charge.

  • Comment number 29.

    With any new technology, there will always be some nut case looking to use it to cause harm. That's what happened with nuclear technology, but we didn't all die in the cold war did we? Whilst genetic engineering can be powerful, using biological weapons like that is like using nuclear weapons: it can only end in mutally assured destruction.

    This technology is in it's infacy, however, and as such it would be foolish to try daring experiments at this stage. Research needs to be given time, and should not be bent by the popular press or otherwise. I do hope to see some good developments from it, including biological computers that can run much faster than our current silicon based technology.

  • Comment number 30.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 31.

    I guess I am one of those 'the glass is half empty' types.. I can't help but think this is one of those scientific breakthroughs that will end up being used to cause more harm than good. I am sure there are governments out there already trying to figure out a way to weaponize this new technology.

  • Comment number 32.

    It is a technical advance in bacterial transformation joining large lengths of DNA.. All that it represents is a verification of the fidelity of a DNA synthesizer and that of the sequencing technique for obtaining the complete DNA sequence from the original target bacterium. For years it has been possible to clone circular DNA resembling bacterial plasmids in bacteria. An completely 'original' designer genome has not yet been made and is probably not worth doing. New 'life forms' will be existing bacteria, plants and animals incorporating further catalogues of genes foreign to them. IN other words, new genetically modified organisms.
    The danger posed by transgenes is already real. It is feared that resistance genes incorporated into crop plants like cereals that allow them to live after exposure to herbicides like glyphosate may yet be naturally transfered to weeds.
    'Darth' Venter, the author of this latest piece of research, has been more interested in patenting human genes and selling the human genome database than in pure research and this too is for commercial application.

    Don't panic, Mr Mainwaring!

  • Comment number 33.

    Very exciting prospects here, but how do we keep this knowledge in safe hands? It's inevitable that eventually people with the knowledge and other bad ideas will have big plans.

    Guess it's the same with everything though really, so I say go ahead with it, the people that would abuse this 'technology' would just abuse some other tech if this didn't exist.

    Just thoughts aloud.

  • Comment number 34.

    I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. What Dr Ventner has done is the biological equivalent of typing the words from a book into a word-processor and printing it out again - then calling it a new book..!
    What would be significant would be to string together genes from different bacteria and create a totally new species - the equivalent of combining different pages from a whole library of books into a totally new novel..now that would be something to be concerned about..!

  • Comment number 35.

    I have to smile as this reminds me of a sketch from Only Fools and Horses. Del goes to the doctors and says to the lady doctor "I got a bit of Synthia." The doctor replies "I don't know that one!" Del explains he's suffering from a pain" Oh well I enjoyed it!

    I have participated in the creating of all manner of drugs including Relenza and inventions like the MRI scanner. The we are all doomed merchants will predict armagedon and one day they will be right but until then well done Dr Venter.

  • Comment number 36.

    Great. How long before this is turned into a super weapon of mass destruction?

  • Comment number 37.

    It might not be a good idea:It all went terribly pear-shaped for Doktor Frankenstein.You cannot control Evolution but you cannot always foresee the consequences either.

  • Comment number 38.

    When the modern piano was invented,people said that if you played it or listened to it indoors,you would soon go deaf.When it was first possible to travel in a motor car at speeds in excess of 25mph,people said that if you traveled at more than 75mph,you would die.When Einstein saw the results of the Manhattan project,he became very depressed and said"Now I have become the destroyer of worlds"because he knew that without his work on atomic-physics,there could not have been an a-bomb(at that time),he did realise though,that the work of another physicist would have been the catalyst for the research of Oppenheimer and the rest of the team.Einstein did not make the a-bomb,but he made the a-bomb possible,AT THAT TIME.To clarify my point,There is a world of difference between one side of the knife-edge and the other.....Its still a knife edge. I Recommend comment number 6

  • Comment number 39.

    Terraforming ...

    This is a small step towards our ability to colonise inhospitable planets.

    As for earth, I'd be happier if there is never a release of stuff like this or any more genetically engineered organisms.

  • Comment number 40.

    It's an interesting technical advance, and it's nice to see that it can be done successfully. It's not going to change the world dramatically though, I'd think, for a good while, if ever.

  • Comment number 41.

    aristotles23 wrote:
    When Einstein saw the results of the Manhattan project,he became very depressed and said"Now I have become the destroyer of worlds"

    Actually, he didn't. Do check your facts before posting, please.

  • Comment number 42.

    I think it Robert Oppenheim who said that.

  • Comment number 43.

    Drat. Oppenheimer.

  • Comment number 44.

    Talbot wrote:
    What Dr Ventner has done is the biological equivalent of typing the words from a book into a word-processor and printing it out again

    That's quite a good analogy. It's not really a "new" bacterium at all.

  • Comment number 45.

    Read "The Doomsday Book" by Gordon Rattray Taylor to see where scientific experiments with the environment either did go horribly wrong or had the potential to do so had they been carried through (as in the idea for flooding the Amazon Basin).

    It depends upon how far the potential has been looked into, and what commonsense views have been overlooked.

  • Comment number 46.

    I see that this HYS item replaces the one about the next Labour leader. Couldn't some future Frankenstein create a decent Labour leader from a synthetic organism, or has it already been done?

  • Comment number 47.

    This is the last straw! Worse than taking Rabbits to Australia.

  • Comment number 48.

    I was going to say that I hope they won't let it grow a brain and thumbs but, to be honest, I hope it grows up into a nasty synthetic pasty and bites them on their bums.

  • Comment number 49.

    The idea of "bio-warfare" is VERY frigthening - and presumably someone some crazed dictators would love to get their hands on. Vice versa - you can never un-invent technology. I'm convinced humanity will simply destroy itself at some stage which is such a shame. I'm still not convinced nuclear power was a smart idea either!

  • Comment number 50.

    Can it be taxed?

  • Comment number 51.

    It's taken mankind 2000 years to do what God did millions of years before, so I think any real threat is so far off we'll be long gone...

  • Comment number 52.

    Not sure, but I fancy it'll be Gordon Brown's fault.

  • Comment number 53.

    This will kill us all. This is how we make biological weapons.

  • Comment number 54.

    I have a suspicion that this new technology has already been used to produce something pretty frightening....... The Miliband Brothers.

  • Comment number 55.

    A scientist once said to God, " We can create life now, lets have a contest", God agreed. The scientist bent down to pick up a handful of dust to "create" his new life. God looked up, "ahem, get your own dust".

  • Comment number 56.

    @BBC "Will synthetic life do more harm than good?"

    What a silly divisive headline designed only to promote conflicting arguments. I for one cannot be bothered to rise to such paltry bait.


  • Comment number 57.

    It is very odd that the picture of new life looks just like the new icon for the London Olympics.

  • Comment number 58.

    Man imposes, nature disposes. See volcanoes, oil spills (return of the dinosaurs), tornadoes, lightning, hurricanes, fires, floods, earthquakes....etc.

  • Comment number 59.

    This science terrifies me. In the wrong hands it is a frankinstien moment and there are always too many people ready to sell top secrets for big money. They are playig God and althoug I can see the benefits of using this form to try and find cures for a number of illnesses I fear their are more downsides.

  • Comment number 60.

    Just a matter of time, until science oversteps its bounds, and unleashes disaster on the world.

  • Comment number 61.

    When I read the headline I could not believe that the science was so developed that scientist can actually "build" cells.. But after reading it, though, I think it is the first step toward this.

    Besides all the risks and benefits we can see from this breakthrough, we should not forget that mutations can exist. The cells "are not perfect" and they won't replicate DNA always with 100% probability of success! Therefore I urge the scientist to clarify or at least investigate that the synthetic DNA will not cause a virus that can indeed destroy the humanity..

    We have so many problems with the CO2 and Acidification of the Oceans, that if these do not destroy Humanity (because we finally agreed on clima change and Global Warming), then, if such experiments get out of control, mutations could create a super power virus that might do it..

    Please note, I am a scientist myself and I am not against this breakthrough; just want to point out risk and risk mitigation..



  • Comment number 62.

    Remember this from 'Engines of Creation' by Eric Dexler? 'Imagine such a replicator floating in a bottle of chemicals, making copies of itself....the first replicator assembles a copy in one thousand seconds, the two replicators then build two more in the next thousand seconds, the four build another four, and the eight build another eight. At the end of ten hours, there are not thirty-six new replicators, but over 68 billion. In less than a day, they would weigh a ton; in less than two days, they would outweigh the Earth; in another four hours, they would exceed the mass of the Sun and all the planets combined - if the bottle of chemicals hadn't run dry long before.'

  • Comment number 63.

    What's the betting the Military are already interested in this ... imagine, synthetic soldiers or synthetic pilots and how about unleashing organisms against your enemy!

  • Comment number 64.

    Science has created something as intelligent as Girls Aloud, big deal!

  • Comment number 65.

    50. At 9:49pm on 20 May 2010, Allan wrote:

    Can it be taxed?
    ____________

    It will be.

  • Comment number 66.

    Its going to freak out those organised religions which rely on ancient books to discipline their disciples. The rest of us can look forward to better medicine and designer bugs that could eat all the oil you want in an emergency. Its going to be pretty handy for designing bio-weapons too, so lets hope our side learn all about them first.

  • Comment number 67.

    56. At 10:05pm on 20 May 2010, Paul J Weighell wrote:

    @BBC "Will synthetic life do more harm than good?"

    What a silly divisive headline designed only to promote conflicting arguments. I for one cannot be bothered to rise to such paltry bait.
    ___________

    And yet you participated. Good stand there, Paul.

    I thought it was their job to set up these forums in a way as to invite conflicting views.

    I quite like posting responses, to be honest. However, despite you having posted a response, it seems that you refuse to posts responses. Fair enough. Bye bye.

  • Comment number 68.

    There are certainly side effects and consequences both good and bad that have been overlooked or remain undiscovered. Before we start talks of developing fuels and medicine out of "synthetic life" cells, let's find out as much as possible about the effects on the environment and public health.

  • Comment number 69.

    steve butler wrote:
    Oh dear - cue lots of brainwashed americans to tell us how terrible this is and what a risk it is to society and how it is an affront to their deity.
    -----------

    ummmm, this is an AMERICAN invention, you xenophobic dolt.

    Try reading the article before you post, plzzz.

  • Comment number 70.

    For me, as someone who works in the field of genetical engineering, it doesn't seem to be much of a breakthrough, they just synthesized an artificial chromosome based on a working DNA. If they really created artificial life, they would have to suggest DNA coding proteins that are necessary for cells to "live". So, some boasting about this (considering it showed as a BBC top headline) is not really appropriate, basically it is conformation that bacterium whose DNA was removed, can "live" after addition of synthetic DNA with the same primary structure.

  • Comment number 71.

    This was solely synthetic DNA, which has been done before. A synthetic cell was the challenge! Please check your sources. Why is this even news?

    When someone makes synthetic machinery to read normal DNA (as a cell) I'll be impressed - now that would be a disruptive technology!

    Heck, when someone at least figures out how proteins fold without a brute force method, well, it's over our head for at least 20 years even there.

  • Comment number 72.

    A cluster of artificial cells grown in a petri dish and the science geeks go crazy? Every day clusters of cells known as embryos are scraped out of wombs and dumped in waste bins; every day fully developed lifeforms are blown up, shot, poisoned or starve to death, so why is the artificial creation life so great when natural life is so disposable?

  • Comment number 73.

    2012 ?? question answered

  • Comment number 74.

    Fire is dangerous if uncontrolled. So are cars, planes and trains. So is electricity. But these are all things that, when properly harnessed, can bring great benefits to humanity.

    The problem is not the ethics of the science; it is merely a question of what people can and cannot be trusted to control.

  • Comment number 75.

    One has to wonder how different (in terms of sequence)how different the in vitro synthesized DNA is compared to the DNA that was in the cell naturally to begin with. If the overall sequence is very similar to the DNA originally, then this might not be such a large development.

  • Comment number 76.

    Surely the greatest thing to come out of this is that humanity will at last be free of the self-imposed fantasy that a supernatural "god" up in the sky created life. Religion is dead. Long live humanity!

  • Comment number 77.

    This is great if controlled very carefully and within certain limits because we all know Bacterias will change and adapt to their environments such as Influenza, the Common Cold, Bird Flue etc.

    Like many such developments in Science, if used for GOOD it can benefit mankind, but take into account we are already over populated by some 2-2 Billion people worldwide for the amount of Land, Fresh Water and Natural Resources now, we really cannot afford to have loads of 'miracle' cures and we need to get used to the fact we NEED to die in order to PRESERVE life for millenia.

  • Comment number 78.

    Any cells that could be made in the lab could also happen in a similar if not identical form in nature. It is no more unnatural than synthetic medicines, HRT, fertility treatment or an artificial hip. We need to be careful and we need to make sure that mother nature remains in control but even while taking that into account we should not shy away from new developments.

  • Comment number 79.

    Hairy Dog wrote:
    You can't control evolution.


    You can and humans have been doing it for thousands of years.
    Almost everything we eat is the product of selective breeding and there are a great many plant and animal varieties that only exist because we have controlled the evolution of their ancestors.

    You only have to look at the huge variety of dogs that now exist due to the intervention of humans to see that we have been controlling evolution for a very long time and more often than not with a great deal of success.

  • Comment number 80.

    Why can I see this getting used by some military organisation? Give it another hundrd years and armies will consist of Robots and microbes.

  • Comment number 81.

    The beginning of the end.

    We have not even understand DNA. And we start creating artificial ones.
    Imagine ebola that are airborne.

  • Comment number 82.

    3. At 7:14pm on 20 May 2010, Hairy Dog wrote:
    You can't control evolution.
    It only takes one of these bacteria to mate with another and you have serious and posibly extinction problems.
    Not a good idea.
    ***************************************************************************

    Um, bacteria don't mate, mate. They divide. Since the advent of antibiotics we've been making bacteria alter in the most nasty ways. Maybe we can develop a anti bacteria bacteria from this.

  • Comment number 83.

    I'm excited by this because medicine may be the derivative.It's just another form of evolution and adaptation,this time it is stimulated by the animal that is known as mankind.Well done to the scientists for achieving this.

  • Comment number 84.

    "If we can really get cells to do the production that we want....and reverse some of the damage to the environment by capturing carbon dioxide."

    OR we could plant some trees and stop deforestation? There is nothing like a good old man made cover up to solve a man made problem.

  • Comment number 85.

    This is all just a little bit frightening for the likes of me. While my heart leaps at the possibilities it offers it also sinks at the thought of mankind actually being the creators and not the created.

    Does this mean we supercede God or are we merely being loaned this power until the Almighty decides he/she has given us enough rope and we are about to hang ourselves.

    This stupendous move to create life albeit synthetically should be closely monitored for it has the potential to outgrow the ethics of the scientists working on it. This is either the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning.

    Does anyone else remember the man who used to walk around with bill boards around his neck warning 'The End Is Nigh'. Now he really could be sane after all.

    I hope and pray that this a move for the betterment of mankind and lives up to the hyperbole surrounding it.

  • Comment number 86.

    Dear Sirs,
    As a physician, scientist, molecular geneticist and molecular biologist, I am deeply concerned about the implications of this endeavor. The multiple potential benefits of this experiment can instantly vanish by a single unforeseen catastrophic event.
    AMMDO, MD, PhD

  • Comment number 87.

    Our first example of synthetic life will probably be seen in the UK at the Labour Party conference.

  • Comment number 88.

    If these bacteria deveolop in the outside world, they could transform into anything, even wipe out the human race. We would have no defence against them.

  • Comment number 89.

    It is undoubtedly a breakthrough, whether for good or bad remains to be seen. This science has the potential to alleviate disease and suffering, and that must be for the good. It also has the potential to degrade the very sanctity of life. As a Spiritualist I am not against this research per se, because whatever man is capable of is only because that capability has been given by God. But it is absolutely essential that progress in this field is accompanied every step of the way by full and open moral debate.

    Science is now progressing exponentially but too often scientists push boundaries because they can and with no regard for consequences, witness nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. Universities need to think carefully about making moral ethics a compulsory component of every science course.

  • Comment number 90.

    This is a continuation of UK research which life scences exported...however it will quickly be used for military uses and further modification of crops...there are good things about UK medication...wonder if the afg poppy disaster was infighting or the result of genetic new bugs?

    I can now see super white cells in the blood to eat furred up arteries...

  • Comment number 91.

    Some questions about this development:

    - Is it currently impossible for it to infect animals or plants?
    - Can it currently be killed by common antibiotics?
    - Is it impossible for naturally occurring bacteria to initiate a gene swap between themselves and this new synthetic bacteria?
    - Is it impossible for the genome to mutate?

    Unless the answers to all those questions is "yes", then we could have a big problem.

    Of course natural bacteria have had millions of years to evolve very complicated set of genes. We have had a similar amount of time to evolve defences. However, as this synthetic DNA effectively bypasses evolution, the danger is that someone will inadvertently give it a payload that will be devastating.

  • Comment number 92.

    Creating synthetic life is a step in the direction of the ficticous Dr. Frankenstein, and is something that scares me and horrifies me.

    Whislt I am sure the creator Dr Craig Venter and his team are thinking of the good such synthetically produced 'life' can bring, I do wonder about the serious implications if something should go wrong or fail in the self reproducing genome as the cells reproduce.

    The whole thing could easily fall into the wrong hands, rogue states, terrorism, it really doesn't bear thinking about, there is a serious ethical question here, just merely monitoring what goes on may not be enough.

    On another scale it could be a little like the planting of genetically modified seeds, at a nice little profit to the seller of course, harmless enough in themselves as the crops grow (so far), in England it was considered that a ten metre gap between genetic and non-genetic crops would be enough to stop any cross polination (which is supposed to be impossible)

    However, the powers that be ommited to take into account the humble honey bee and bumble bee, who went busily on their way unable to read the signs "No bees betond this point", joke? No, on the contrary, quite serious, the intellegence of some of the ministry men is quite staggering, the honey you had this morning, was it natural pure - are you 100% sure?.

    To date there are a mix of genetic and non genetic crops growing following the cross polination in Mexico, which should all have been ordinary non-genetically modified, some of which have turned up in rainforests, not to mention the effect on UK crops and wildlife - where will this lead is anyones guess, but to play around with synthetically created life I think is a step far too far. No, emphatically no, it should be stopped.

  • Comment number 93.

    I made a little illustration: bit.ly/bHZHZm

  • Comment number 94.

    As with most scientific breakthroughs, this development is a two-edged sword. Those who made it have cited the potential benefits, which could be huge. But this technology in the wrong hands or even if there is some sort of accident could end up decimating humans if it becomes a dangerous pathogen. Unless development somehow tags it with markers which human defence systems recognise or it cannot reproduce or evolve to reproduce, humans and also animals will have absolutely no resistance to infection by it.

  • Comment number 95.

    There is one ethical question I want to raise and that is, do we have the right to patent life? (not this creationism v evolutionary which everyone is commenting on).

    I am think it has been a wonderful achievement to recreate a bacterial life form artificially in vitro. I'm sure the details of which genes were used will come out in years to come.We must remember that bacteria are a lot simpler genetically than us humans and in any environment outside a laboratory they are likely to be genetically different than when they started.

    I agree with the ethics involved in this are huge (we kill bacteria all the time by washing) especially if they start generating artificial eukaryotes (which make us up). I also voice my concerns with the obvious bad thing that can come out of this, I hope it doesn't happen.

    Happy debating!

  • Comment number 96.

    38.....Note to self...Wrong about Einstein quote, was Oppenheimer who said that,apologies for my subsequent confusion,thank you grey animal for spotting my error.Must do better next time,no mistakes or confusions allowed. 'fraid I got mixed-up..I will try to ensure it does not happen again.Once more,Thank you for your vigilance....sincerely,Aristotles23

  • Comment number 97.

    You can't stop the human race from advancing. I think these silly bioethics people just want something to protest about sometimes.

  • Comment number 98.

    This is the beginning of the end. I don't need to emphasise the dangers as other posters before me have done an excellent job.

    In addition, I do not regard the incorporation of synthetic DNA in a living organism as synthetic life. Synthetic life has to be 100% synthetic and this organism consists of a biological host bacterium with a synthetic genome. This is not artificial life. To qualify the host HAS to be totally artificial as well as having no biological content. The implications however are horrendous!

  • Comment number 99.

    Breakthrough? Maybe.. We're still pretty much living with the terror of companies with patents on genes that limit relative research, along with genetically modified crops that go into food without us knowing about it, producing god knows what results (as long-term effects have not been researched enough, due to haphazard research methods and non-existent unbiased monitoring organizations) and destroying the planets plant variety in the meantime. And now microbes.. though I can see the potential coming from it, I still cant help thinking "whats next? labeled flu? "made in blabla" or killer bacteria? (which gives a whole new meaning to future biological warfare amongst the "good" that might come from it)...

  • Comment number 100.

    No matter what the advance in science, there will always be strident voices saying it is a disaster, against God and the beginning of the end of civilsation, but these self same critics of research will quite happily take beneficial medicinal drugs and submit to life saving operations.

    None of the nay sayers had as much a negative impact as the bastion of right wing fundamentaalism, George W. Bush, who banned stem cell research that could lead to a cure for many disabled people.

    Should religious fundamentalism impede medicine? Not in a civilised modern world.

 

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