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Assessing the impact of Venter's 'synthetic life'

Susan Watts | 18:23 UK time, Thursday, 20 May 2010

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Building a life form in the laboratory - piece by piece from DNA building blocks - is as groundbreaking as it sounds.

And this is just what the American scientist, Dr Craig Venter, has announced on Thursday evening.

Dr Venter is the controversial scientist who famously developed a "short cut" for decoding the human genome a decade ago.

And the creation of his synthetic microbe is being compared with Dolly the sheep in genetics, and Microsoft's operating system in computing.

"Synthetic life" is new science and a new technology rolled into one.

The aim is to create a whole new biological toolkit - organisms with artificially added DNA instructing them to exude cleaner oils, or novel drugs or vaccines.

Dr Venter has been promising this for years, and now that he has succeeded we'll be hearing a lot about how he has "created life in the lab".

It's not quite that - not yet - but it's close.

Dr Venter and his team built "Synthia", as their new life form is nick-named by some, from snippets of DNA called "cassettes".

But he is still relying on a naturally-occurring microbe to act as a host - with its own DNA stripped out.

Don't misunderstand me. What Dr Venter has done is incredible science. I've already heard it described as Nobel prize-winning, "landmark", work.

But there is always an element of razzmatazz surrounding Dr Venter's research that makes it harder to sift fact from hype.

It will certainly raise the profile of a whole new field of science Synthetic Biology - less than decade old.

Filming at the Royal Society this morning - where coincidentally they were hosting a meeting on Synthetic Biology, a portrait of Charles Darwin gazed down the corridor towards the library.

I wondered what he would make of the discussion among a couple of dozen of today's brightest scientists and thinkers - gathered to ponder the latest in Synthetic Biology.

They are in no doubt that the potential is there for a new industrial revolution.

Dr Venter's microbe is just the start. Others will be inspired to build on it.

This is how Dr Venter sees his team's success: "This is an important step we think, both scientifically and philosophically. It's certainly changed my views of the definitions of life and how life works."

But just as Dr Venter unveiled his work, the critics lined up to call a halt.

There are calls for a moratorium until society can better understand the implications.

And even some of the scientists who work in the field have told me they worry that we lack the means to weigh up the risks such novel organisms might represent, once set loose in the real world.

They are by definition so new that we cannot simply compare them with the risky microbes and pathogens we know about.


  • Comment number 1.

    I believe this is the most dangerous of all the technology that mankind has created. This is far more powerful than any chemical, biological or atomic weapon. This technology of mankind "creating" any type of life he can think of, has massive implications for the survival of all life on earth.

    Manufacturing synthetic life could create incredible beauty, but its far more likely to succeed in creating our worst nightmares. The only limit is the human imagination, and stuff we can't yet imagine. I'm a scientist, i live for science, but we must tread very very carefully when we play dice with the 5 billion year old code created by nature.

    What happens when the human race is no longer the most intelligent species? Do we kill off the mistake we created? Or does it decide to kill us off?


  • Comment number 2.

    So were becoming god

  • Comment number 3.

    This is not as revolutionary as it sounds. We have thousands of altered bacteria in DNA libraries. This is not the creation of life. They needed a bacterial host to produce this new organism.

    I am waiting for the aricle to come out, but it seems this was just a lot of subcloning( inserting genes into a plasmid) except done many many times where one ended up with a plasmid which functions as a genome.

  • Comment number 4.

    Well I'm impressed. I think it is an amazing achievement and I can see the potential for enormous good to come from Synthia.

    There's potential for enormous harm too, which is the main problem with this discovery.

    I'm not sure that mankind is intelligent enough yet, to be trusted with playing God...

  • Comment number 5.

    It is important to understand that what Nature truly excels at is adaptability. Natural organisms fight for survival in a ferociously competitive world and it is astronomically unlikely that any synthetic organism could even begin to compete with Nature. The most likely outcome for a synthetic organism released into the wild is becoming a quick snack for one of the multitude of voracious predators just waiting for a fledgling organism to blunder past.

  • Comment number 6.

    To compare this with "Microsoft's operating system in computing", which was in no way revolutionary and merely copied many ideas developed elsewhere first, is an insult!

  • Comment number 7.

    So is this now the 8th day?

    I'm sure all this will be fodder for the Sunday sermon. Next up will be proof that we are not alone in the universe. Of course the religions of the world will have to alter their views on this. Already the fear mongers are at work. Like Galileo who was persecuted for his discovery that the heavens were not quite perfect, today's scientists are still free to discover the TRUTH. I only hope that ignorance, as it is growing in places like Texas doesn't spread. I guess this is all part of the program..... To the religions, get over it.

  • Comment number 8.

    No human being or life shortage in our planet.We have food and water shortage,every day thousands of lives are forming around the planet.World doesn't need aliens.

  • Comment number 9.

    Congratulations.. can someone spend the time and money to invent somthing to stop wars and famine. Most importantly, can the resources be put towards teaching man to be more humane to each other?

    We should also start looking for "John Connor".

  • Comment number 10.

    Any thing which is artificial will remain artificial.

    We need to bring people into a real world, why to create artificial life which has no sentiments, no sense and above all no dream to come true.

  • Comment number 11.

    Bad enough the unintended consequences from those with good motives but what happens in twenty when the process becomes common knowledge years or less then rogue nations who want to pervert this knowledge by making into a weapon and hold the world hostage? This knowledge has the possibility to do great things but like all exceptional science breakthroughs it seems to have the destructive potential many times the good it can do. How many counties make us leery as they acquire the knowledge and ability to make nuclear bombs? This is worse it won’t be contained once unleashed it wont be sudden or noticeable and it will be not be reversible.

  • Comment number 12.

    "And the creation of his synthetic microbe is being compared with Dolly the sheep in genetics, and Microsoft's operating system in computing."

    Are you serious?

    The history of operating systems might be useful for you to learn more about, given that such an object will one day be packed into the heart of a living cell.

    There are established ways of ensuring that pure-code entities are secure, and widely tested before being widely used. For example, the Internet has taken collaboration and peer-review to an unprecendent level, and made it possible to distribute enabling technologies widely.

    In order to ensure public acceptance of the biological equivalent, it's clear that peer-review of any synthetic organism intended for release into the wild, would need to go beyond that which could be provided by any one organisation, country, or even part of the world.

    Operating systems, and their development patterns, are prototypes.

  • Comment number 13.

    I agree entirely with the comments made by AthleticSkeptic. Any conceivable genome that confers favourable survival attributes will almost certainly already have been tested in the crucible of evolution. As such, any manmade organism is highly unlikely to lead to the doomsday scenarios put forward by some armchair critics. Organisms - particularly viruses and bacteria, which have obviously fairly simple genomes, trade off certain attributes in favour of others, given their limited genetic material. Therefore, for instance, resistance to antibiotics evolves but the organisms are less 'fit to survive' in any environment where they are not challenged by the antibiotic, relative to non-mutated competitors, because they have had to trade off something else (such as efficiency in digesting nutrients) in order to gain resistance, given their finite genome size. In the same way, if we create bacteria to digest, say, oil, they will trade off other attributes, such that outside of the specific ecosystem they were tailored for, they will be unable to compete.

    Of course, there is the scenario of terrorists possibly assembling smallpox from genetic material, but we could pretty quickly inoculate populations against such a threat - recall that cowpox, a related cattle disease, can produce an effective vaccine; this was discovered by Jenner and founded the whole idea of inoculation.

  • Comment number 14.

    Not to attempt to dampen the spirits of people or try to discredit what is clearly a fantastic leap forward in the scientific world, but in my opinion this is not actually synthetic life. We have yet to synthesise a working cell with organelles of any description as far as I'm aware.

    All that has happened is we have taken something that evolution designed (the mechanisms of the cell) then copied and pasted the instructions from another cell. It seems a little premature to speculate that we are ushering in a future of playing god or creating an apocalypse-bringing intelligent life form.

  • Comment number 15.

    The principal problem with this type of venture is that the type of science, scientist and scientific skill/knowledge needed to succeed in this manipulation, does not mean that they have any knowledge of how such organisms will react with the ecology of the world. Understanding genetic manipulation and the ecology of how such genetically manipulated organisms interact in the wider world are 2 entirely different skill sets. This is the massive danger of this tinkering. I see no evidence to suggest that Craig Venter has any real understanding of what will happen if he tries to use the manipulated organisms in the way he predicts.

  • Comment number 16.

    I very much agree with EGS44 that it is probably very inaccurate to call this the creation of new life for the reasons they give. However, I regard this more of a technical achievement rather than a "fantastic leap forward in the scientific world". The reason I say this is that a lot of this work is more honing the technology to make this type of manipulation possible and successful, rather than a profound understanding of the genetic process, and the part that genetic material plays in the formation organisms.

  • Comment number 17.

    I don't understand why everyone is frightened by synthetic forms of life. Hollywood has been overrun by synthetic life forms for years, and the most dangerous thing they've produced is Sylvester Stallone movies.

  • Comment number 18.

    I agree with Putnik29: This is not as revolutionary as it sounds. The promises, though, what really raise concerns. Using synthetic organisms to replace our dependence on oil?!? Someday everyone will have to wake up and realize the oil dependence extends far beyond their tiny little gas tank. Not only does agriculture rely on it (to fuel farm equipment and food transport, provide pesticides and fertilizer, etc.), but the entire Western economy depends on it. And we can only depend on it because we are using energy that has been accumulating in the earth for billions of years. If we used synthetic organisms to create fuel, the energy in that fuel would have to come from somewhere... and probably the sun. That means more competition for valuable land space. And as we continue to provide cheap fuel, our economies continue to grow... a necessity for our economic system. Eventually we'll hit a limit to our growth, whether we've got green energy or not.

    And as for playing god... we've been doing that for centuries, and even more so since the advent of medicine and global trade. Agriculture is not trying to keep up with population growth, but is driving it. Medicine robs us of our part in natural selection, making our populations largely dependent on medicine, the same way most of us are completely dependent on grocery stores.

  • Comment number 19.

    Regardless of the dangers, this can help us colonize other planets by creating a bacteria, replace the need for oxygen with a different gas and have it exhale O3. I'm not sure how the science behind that works, but it could well be possible.Once we create a stable atmosphere we could move on in. On top of that we could create cures for diseases such as cancer and birth defects. Then instead of creating something called a nanite (nanobots, nanoids, or nanomites have also been used to describe these hypothetical devices.) we could create bacteria that will work with us, it seems easier and within our grasp. The possibilities are endless, as long as we don't kill our selves within the process.

  • Comment number 20.

    If someone replaced an instruction book with a copy, most sensible people would not be impressed - even if the original book was full of interesting information. This is analogous to what Venter has done.

  • Comment number 21.


    Oh please - (1) what bases did he use? Same old four?

    (2) If Venter has gone from dead chemical configuration to a replicating (live) configuration, then the thing proved, is that there is no such thing as LIFE per se. Only precise arrangement of dead stuff 'doing life'. That established, we can stop fussing and worshipping and try to just enjoy the amazing properties of this universe WITHOUT GOING MAD AND SPOILING IT.

  • Comment number 22.

    This is not a big deal and I wish "experts" in other fields would stop making silly talk. We have hundreds of disease causing viruses and bacteria and millions of non pathogenic ones already adapted to us. Mutating them into more dangerous ones is the stuff of high school biology. The additional risk of "artificial life" like that of genetic engineering in general is trivial.

  • Comment number 23.

    Another thought:

    Venter is deluding himself if he thinks he can create a living organism as dangerous as naturally occuring pathogens. The latter have co-evolved with humans and their ancestors for millions of years and hence have got to know our weak points. To survive and flourish, they have also had to develop elaborate strategies to avoid our defence mechanisms. It is incredibly arrogant to believe that an artificial construct would be as sophisticated and lethal as a malaria parasite or a TB bacterium; it is much more likely to be a biological 'wimp'. I suspect Venter knows this but needs to hype up his work to capture people's attention.

  • Comment number 24.

    There have been a couple of comments stating that there is little to fear, because a man-made organism is not necessarily likely to thrive in an environment driven by natural survival competition (which is presuming that survival by any means has not been 'pre-programmed').

    But what happens when a virus comes across something we have created, and co-opts some of the genome? What kind of mutations could arise from that?

    Given what we have already seen from the cross pollination of genetically modified and natural crops, isn't it just really optimistic (at best) to think we'll be able to reign in or control a self-replicating, living organism once released?

  • Comment number 25.

    Planet Marte / mars

  • Comment number 26.

    To be honest, this is indeed an entirely synthetic organism, and thus a great achievement. Nonetheless, as one poster mentioned above, this is solely a technical achievement at best, given the limited and probably little to no capabilities of the bacterium.

    Given that Venter has already coded a bacterium genome on his computers, and he has transplanted entire bacterial genomes before, doing what is equivalent to both procedures on one organism doesn't seem too unreasonably difficult.

    Someone mentioned that because we are relying on the four nitrogenous bases, or that we rely on other preexisting organisms to produce the bacterium, that this is not a synthetic bacteria. Ridiculous. A fact probably evident to most readers is that using DNA is the only feasible way currently to construct a new organism. And in our case, we can regard the already-existing bacterium as a factory to produce the new bacteria.

    But let's get to the meat of the issue. A bacteria such as the type Venter has created is unlikely to mutate and suddenly wipe out the entire world, unlike what most science-fiction novels would make us believe. Mutations in DNA that result in powerful virulent infections are rather unlikely as long as we do not deliberately create a vector for disease. Engineering a retrovirus, on the other hand, is a bit more worrying - given enough time, they'll do anything because of the ease with which RNA acquires defects.

    Opensourcing this information might be a big problem, but it's unlikely that even major government organizations will be able to synthesize their own artificial disease vectors for several years. We don't have the knowledge right now. Besides, if you really want something bad, just try to make a chimera of existing bacteria or viruses. Or stick with anthrax in the mail. We're thoroughly exaggerating the abilities of these criminal organizations by claiming that they have the capacity to do what Venter did on a much greater scale.

    And of course, because we have such limited knowledge, we're better of sticking with just modifying or using existing bacteria for our tasks. Cheaper, and probably just plain more effective in the end. Evolution's been optimizing microorganisms for billions of years; there's literally millions of microorganisms in the sea for every conceivable niche.

    I applaud Venter's achievement, but you haven't showed me the money yet; don't pretend that you could effectively mass-produce a flu vaccine within a year.

    Still, once we do get the hang of this, we'll be able to create bacteria optimized for lab conditions instead of for the outside world. In other words, bacteria that just produce a lot of oil or whatever we want, and don't have real survival mechanisms. All they do is make oil and reproduce, kind of like how red blood cells just transport oxygen in our body; nothing more.

    Then we can truly say we surpassed nature.

  • Comment number 27.

    In my opinion, and you are free to disagree, I believe this to be a great discovery. To everyone that is afraid of some horrible thing to come out of this discovery, there is that slim possibility. However, you must consider how devastating the atomic bomb was ( I know many of you may not agree with this analogy, but it is for those who believe this to be the apocalypse). Germany was in a race with the U.S. to create the atom bomb, think how terrible that could have ended up. Think of the potential loss of life, on top of the near complete genocide of Jews. Do you think it was a mistake for the U.S. to pursue the atom bomb? I don't, I am not happy with the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but it was used to prove to the world that we had this type of power, not to wipe out an entire race.
    I think that this discovery is much like the internet. It is something that can be of great use. Sure there will be the "hackers" that try to create dangerous viruses, but I would prefer people like Dr. Venter unraveling the DNA structure and staying ahead of the curve. What I am saying is that there are going to be some repercussions for this discovery, but there is no turning back, and there is a tremendous possibility for good. Here is a great example, did you know that 1-1.5 million people die every year from Malaria. It is mostly confined to Africa, Latin America, and Asia. If we could find a cheap and easy cure for this with this technology that would be amazing. Unfortunately people from developed countries are terrified of the slim chances of a Malaria like problem to strike them than to help the ones who actually do suffer from Malaria. We cannot pretend this discovery did not happen, we must accept it and move forward.
    To those that think that evolution is the great master of all creations, and that anything man-made will be consumed by naturally made organisms is like comparing riding horse back to flying a plane. Evolution occurs over generations. With this type of technology we can change certain genes of each generation until we get it right, whereas evolution randomly changes genes and most of them don't work out. The fact of the matter is we know the genes that are necessary and beneficial and when we make changes it is not random.

  • Comment number 28.

    My belief is that evolution on Earth has doomed the human species to destroy itself--if it isn't destroyed by an asteroid first. Dr. Venter promises a new Industrial Revolution. The first one, aside from making a few humans too rich for their own good, has produced no real progress in making the planet a better environment for humans or other animals or vegetation or even synthetic cells. Why should he think his particular scientific breakthrough will save us? Even if he is right that synthetic bacteria might clean up the odd oil spill, we're still stuck with real human beings who have a long history of using wonderful new inventions for destructive purposes. Oh well, I suppose this is just evolution on its inevitable, ineluctable course to the last bang, or whimper, whichever comes first.

  • Comment number 29.

    Whatever man can do, man will eventually do. And if whatever he does has a destructive potential, that potential will be realised, at least once. The history so far shows that there is no way around this. So does the story of Pandora's box.

  • Comment number 30.

    As a christian scientist it makes me wonder about it all. Looking forward 20 or 30 years, humankind is capable of creating its own "world" and becoming "Gods" in that world. Shame about all the problems left behind in this one - poverty, disease, hunger, war, global-warming, bankers... It does feel like our civilisation is turning full circle... What will our creations write a book about?

    Now creating artificial life could have its benefits - a microbe designed to "eat" the HIV-virus could be useful, until it evolves - anything we create will still be hit by the evolution bug and turn into something we cannot control - that is the nature of our universe and why I believe that this world isn't IT...

  • Comment number 31.

    This is a great symbolic advance, but in terms of its practical significance, a fairly mundane technical one. Even if we developed the ability to make a wholly artificial organism from the bottom up, i.e. by assembling not only the genome artificially but also all of the organelles and other basic cellular machinery necessary to produce a basic undifferentiated cell sufficiently complex to "kick off" functional gene expression and replication, this wouldn't really let us do much we can't do already. What such abilities would be are basic, secondary-level tools that could be used in a far more difficult and complex science that is still very much in its infancy, i.e. the potential for designing /genomes/ from the bottom up, as opposed to just copying and pasting them from one "blank slate" cell to another or inserting single genes with specific functions into them that are not integrated with the rest of the organism's biology. The advances in this field will be slow and gradual, but once fully mature the potential really will be almost unlimited.

    Of course it's true that the "crucible" of evolution has honed real organisms that are possibly far more fit-for-purpose than any we could ever produce, but there are two important qualifications to that fact. The first is that while an artificial organism might never be sufficiently well adapted to survive and continue to replicate in "the wild" in competition with organisms truly evolved for that environment, they might still be able to do an awful lot of harm (or good) over the short period of time they were able to survive in a specific environment if their intended function was sufficiently well focused. The second is that while real organisms are exquisitely well adapted to the natural environment (i.e., largely to each other) and to the manner in which new competing organisms may arise through evolution, they are not adapted to the sudden appearance of artificial organisms intelligently designed for a very specific purpose. The ability of humans to design functional genomes from the bottom up, should it ever arise, would represent a quantum shift in the rate of one of the two processes than govern evolution, namely the production of new functional variation (currently a random process resulting from mutation). How this would interact with the second, non-random process (selection) is difficult to predict in the longer term.

  • Comment number 32.

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

  • Comment number 33.

    I couldnt agree more what John said...I think he said it all. Were playing with real dangerous stuff here...its a worrying thought..

  • Comment number 34.

    " Dr. Venter promises a new Industrial Revolution. The first one, aside from making a few humans too rich for their own good, has produced no real progress in making the planet a better environment for humans or other animals or vegetation or even synthetic cells"

    Whats YOUR definition of a better enviroment? Because of the advances of the last 200 years man no longer has to work 14 hours a day in the fields hoping that he'll grown enough food this year not to starve and really hoping his 12 kids (no birth control) won't all die of smallpox or freeze to death if it snows. The 17th century was not the garden of Eden.

    Whats more likely? A "man made bacteria" like venters with stripped down genes suddenly becomes a killer or one of mother natures creations like black death, Ebola or smallpox mutates and gets us? Craig Venter wasn't to blame for Black Death and that took out 50% of Europe. Worst no-one is entirely sure what the disease was (bubonic plague doesn't fit the speed of the epidemic) so we can't be certain it isn't still out there. Personally I'm far more worried about people like 'Time team' digging up old plague pits that anything done in a lab.

  • Comment number 35.

    "19. At 10:24pm on 20 May 2010, Nate wrote:
    Regardless of the dangers, this can help us colonize other planets by creating a bacteria, replace the need for oxygen with a different gas and have it exhale O3. I'm not sure how the science behind that works, but it could well be possible"

    It would only be possible if the gas breathed in contained oxygen: you'd need a planet with a rich carbon dioxide (CO2) or Sulphur Dioxide (SO2) etc atmosphere. Breathing in a gas like elemental Nitrogen and exhaling elemental Oxygen would be impossible. O3 is ozone.... not very stable and highly reactive. Ironically its used to kill bacteria so a bacteria that exhales O2 would be a much better idea. Even then on earth when the first bacteria that exhaled O2 evolved it took millions of years for the oxygen to accumulate as all the iron on earth reacted with the gas first. Only when the iron had all reacted could the gas concentrate. As it did so it killed off most of the rest of the life on earth as oxygen is quite poisonous.

  • Comment number 36.

    as the eternal line from Jurassic park 'they were so focussed on what they could they didn't ask if they should'.

    who we going to sue if it goes wrong? like GM crops has now its infected the normal seed crop?

    they always sell it as 'benefits' but it never works out that way. how many examples do we need?

  • Comment number 37.

    Surely better to State fund and control this kind of technology than ban it and allow it to fall into the hands of rogue states and criminals.

    Why is everyone so quick to look at the dangers of this kind of science without considering the benefits?

  • Comment number 38.

    " they always sell it as 'benefits' but it never works out that way. how many examples do we need?"

    How many positive examples does it take to convince people like you that scientists aren't hell bent on destroying the world. Why do you think none of your relative have died of smallpox? Why do you think infectious disease used to kill 80% of Brits but now kills 4%? Why do you think we have so much cheap food that we're dying of obesity, not hunger.

    Incidentally I doubt if the computer you blog on was made by an enviromentalist out of organic wood either.

  • Comment number 39.

    Less with the scaremongering already, people!

    We've got a good head start on any new single-celled life we create. The world out there is a positively hostile place. It will take billions of years for any "new" life to get to the stage where it stands even a slim chance against us ..... by which time, we'll still be better than it, because we also were improving in the meantime.

    Anyway, the human race has been failing to wipe itself out as predicted by assorted doom-merchants ever since some caveman first plucked a still-burning branch from a lightning-struck tree.

  • Comment number 40.

    Why do people say we're playing God? God is a word which is man made for control over population, come on there is no such thing as a God!

    This is the most fantastic thing man has ever created, did anyone watch the BBC documentry called The Cell? It was in 3 parts and I advise you watch this. In there they altered a cell to create diesel fuel from sugar. In the future you might have a cell which targets the AIDS virus or Cancer cells... This is simply amazing.

  • Comment number 41.

    Before any new organisms go into commercial use they should be licenced and insurance set up to cover any risks of environmental damage or health problems. Dr Venter needs to convince the insurance companies or governments to cover unlimited risks at an economic rate before going ahead.

  • Comment number 42.

    scary, eh? Just imagine if Hitler had hold of this one...

  • Comment number 43.

    Surely artificial life has to be created from inorganic materials. Dr Venter has not produced artificial life just a genetic mutation of an already exising bacteria.

    I suggest in all living organisms there is a simple core chemical structure, a dual bonding dipeptide (two amino acids)which synthesises glucose through photosynthesis, ATP, NADPH (photophosphorylation and photoreduction, nucleic acids and phospholipids.

    It also synthesises weather genes which create the vital survival mechanism of homeostasis and protection and repair mechanism of circadian rhtyhms.

    This core structure has been genetically transfered through replication and/or reproduction involving the weather gene ASMT since the start of life on Earth. It is present in every living organism in mitochondrial cells.

    This core structure has the potential for artificial synthesis from inorganic materials.

  • Comment number 44.

    These have previously been posted on the other discussion thread, with some amendments

    For all those who might feel a bit threatened by all this, just think that whatever you believe about God or nature and the like, we have reached this point and will go much further because we have been given the ability to do this. There is not right and wrong, it's all part of our development, both physically and spiritually and we will learn much from it. No doubt a few individuals will cash in along the way and a few people will not, some may die. What side of the moral dilemma do you find yourself?

    Did Rutherford, Einstien et al think about what they might release by helping to split the atom? Once Oppenheimer witnessed the bomb, he apparently rued his invention. Did they stop to think? They probably did. Are we all dead? Well, certainly not from nuclear weapons anyway, the crude, blackpowder and chemical explosive type are taking lives by the plenty. that's another kettle altogether. Should we not by now have some faith in ourselves that we will not destroy ourselves by some accidental niave armegeddon?

    Any moment, an object could hit us from space, or a mega-volcano erupt and wipe out 98% of life on the planet, God, anyone? Just and fair, anyone? Scientists? No, obviously not, on all counts.

    It's good that we do this stuff, let's give ourselves the best chance of survival that we can, God may be hoping we can cheat nature, thereby proving that his creation is magnificent and ergo, proving he exists, before disappearing in a puff of logic (Douglas Adams, we love you)

    If we are still about in millions of years, in whatever form we've evolved into, it's going to be a combination of nature and our own ingenuity that'll get us there. One writer to another debate thread says that diseases and death could be eliminated, well, we don't want that really, the planet would fill up mighty quick if we had no death and anyway, isn't the great mystery about the whole journey, not just the truckstop.

  • Comment number 45.


    Intuitively' an high-tech synthesiser, supplied with all the required elements, could physically configure them to make a cell. It might need a tickle of electricity so set it going, but then what we call 'life' would manifest. I was under the impression that something as fundamental was Venter's goal. I am disappointed.

    As for danger to other 'life', it is the RESTLESS species, of whom Venter is a male representative, that is 'dangerous'. We are destroyers both by omission and commission. Perhaps, long ago, we were constrained by the Feminine Principle. No hope now.

  • Comment number 46.


    You mentioned everything from GOD, nature, synthesis and any scientific terms and ideas. To sum and weigh all your ideas, I can say all of you are not belong to idiot.

    Anti Group-

    Have you ever witnessed the bad impact of this discovery? Absolutely not yet coz you simply making a catastrophic imaginations.

    Pro Group-

    Have you ever witnessed the good impact of this discovery? Absolutely your answer is not yet also. You're just making a terrific prediction also.

    Therefore, all of us must wait the ONLY TWO results after the application in real world.
    1. Discovery is good if the consequence is good and...
    That's all folks. Stop making predictions and imaginations that will ignite and lead to another self warming towards global warming. YOU MUST MAKE YOUR OWN DISCOVERIES

  • Comment number 47.

    I think it is VITALLY IMPORTANT that before any form of synthetic life is 'let loose in the wild' it should be thoroughly tested for many years in a sealed, controlled environment. This is just common sense. Yes, it is exciting but we MUST be patient and sensible.

  • Comment number 48.

    The key issues in this groundbreaking development haven't changed in 2600 years of human thought, they were put concisely at that time by Gautama Buddha: humankind in our base state is confronted with three basic difficulties: greed, aversion and delusion.

    Science has begun to understand that these "base reactions" even have an address in the brain: the amygdala and the hippocampus, right at the core, one of the oldest area of the brain. This is the source of the affect response structure of our personal and social interactions. Interest, joy, surprise, anger, fear, distress, dis-smell, dis-gust and shame are the labels applied to these base-reactions and they seem to be a mental and emotional equivalent of the base-pair patterns in DNA.

    Body, speech and mind (a book, actually) form the basis in the human geographic subject areas, and the modus operendi is survival. It has played out in two sets of laboratories for years with hundreds of descriptive languages governing the higher levels of concept and experimentation. For men, the laboratory, and the experimental references, are women. For women, the laboratory, and the experimental references, are men. The two schools of thought are quite different - I think we'll all agree.

    And now we have this new, third, school of thought - being propounded apparently by a man. I wonder if there are women involved in the research? It seems to me that would be deeply necessary, even from philosophical and ethical points of view.

    And back to the roots of discovery and our affect responses: All of this won't change, we can't put the cat back in the bag; and we can't change ourselves. All we can do is become aware of the cat, befriend the cat if possible (we all have these pets) and become aware of our own base-reactions in living our lives with this new discovery, these new phenomena.

    Fear is natural in us, it is both our friend and our enemy when we are stressed enough to take this bipolar view of a much broader subject. We need to insert some calm and take a second look at all this, see what really exists between the total friend end and the total enemy end. What is it all about? And I do mean "all".

    I agree with some of the comments, we do need time to reflect, and we need a moratorium on social and economic reaction: we need to put a handle on our base states and slow down, take a deep breath, and not react to all this out of greed, or aversion: not react in delusion. Put patents and copyrights aside, temper our anger and fear with a few deep breaths s l o w l y . . . and seek some clarity in our understanding of this new cat that has come out of the bag.

    We've dealt with these issues for thousands of years, this time, we have an opportunity to deal more mindfully, more clearly, and with some real love, both for each other and for our world.

  • Comment number 49.

    On Genes And Genomes, Concepts And Terminology

    Dispel Some Figments Of Present Science Imagination

    "Galaxies pin down dark energy"

    - Dark energy and matter YOK. Per E=Total[m(1 + D)] all the energy and matter of the universe are accounted for.

    - Higgs Particle YOK. Mass begins to form at some value of the above D.

    - Sleep is inherent for life via the RNAs, the primal Earth ORGANISMS formed and active only under direct sunlight in pre-metabolism genesis era.

    - Natural selection is ubiquitous for ALL Mass Formats. It derives from the expansion of the universe.

    - Epigenetics: Where Life Meets the Genome

    Epigenetics =
    a) the study of heritable changes in gene function that do not involve changes in DNA sequence
    b) the science of enduring changes in the pattern of gene activity, during embryo development and beyond, that do not involve alteration of the DNA sequence.

    The "heritable or enduring changes" are epiDNAtics, not epigenetics. Alternative splicing is not epigenetics, even if/when not involving alteration of the DNA sequence. Earth life is an RNA world.

    It's the RNAs that evolve proteins. AND IT'S THE RNAs THAT HAVE EVOLVED AND PRODUCE AND EMPLOY THE DNA ( and RNA ) templates to carry out life processes, for enhancing Earth's biosphere, for augmenting and constraining as long as possible some energy by augmenting its self-propagation, constraining some of the total energy of the universe, all of which is destined to fuel the ongoing cosmic expansion.


    Science should adjust its vision, comprehension and concepts.

    Dov Henis
    (Comments From The 22nd Century)

    Seed of Human-Chimp Genomes Diversity
    03.2010 Updated Life Manifest
    Cosmic Evolution Simplified
    Gravity Is The Monotheism Of The Cosmos
    Evolution, Natural Selection, Derive From Cosmic Expansion


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