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I am creating artificial life, declares US gene pioneer

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/20....climatechange

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Craig Venter, the controversial DNA researcher involved in the race to decipher the human genetic code, has built a synthetic chromosome out of laboratory chemicals and is poised to announce the creation of the first new artificial life form on Earth.

The announcement, which is expected within weeks and could come as early as Monday at the annual meeting of his scientific institute in San Diego, California, will herald a giant leap forward in the development of designer genomes. It is certain to provoke heated debate about the ethics of creating new species and could unlock the door to new energy sources and techniques to combat global warming.

Mr Venter told the Guardian he thought this landmark would be "a very important philosophical step in the history of our species. We are going from reading our genetic code to the ability to write it. That gives us the hypothetical ability to do things never contemplated before".

The Guardian can reveal that a team of 20 top scientists assembled by Mr Venter, led by the Nobel laureate Hamilton Smith, has already constructed a synthetic chromosome, a feat of virtuoso bio-engineering never previously achieved. Using lab-made chemicals, they have painstakingly stitched together a chromosome that is 381 genes long and contains 580,000 base pairs of genetic code.

The DNA sequence is based on the bacterium Mycoplasma genitalium which the team pared down to the bare essentials needed to support life, removing a fifth of its genetic make-up. The wholly synthetically reconstructed chromosome, which the team have christened Mycoplasma laboratorium, has been watermarked with inks for easy recognition.

It is then transplanted into a living bacterial cell and in the final stage of the process it is expected to take control of the cell and in effect become a new life form. The team of scientists has already successfully transplanted the genome of one type of bacterium into the cell of another, effectively changing the cell's species. Mr Venter said he was "100% confident" the same technique would work for the artificially created chromosome.

The new life form will depend for its ability to replicate itself and metabolise on the molecular machinery of the cell into which it has been injected, and in that sense it will not be a wholly synthetic life form. However, its DNA will be artificial, and it is the DNA that controls the cell and is credited with being the building block of life.

Mr Venter said he had carried out an ethical review before completing the experiment. "We feel that this is good science," he said. He has further heightened the controversy surrounding his potential breakthrough by applying for a patent for the synthetic bacterium.

Pat Mooney, director of a Canadian bioethics organisation, ETC group, said the move was an enormous challenge to society to debate the risks involved. "Governments, and society in general, is way behind the ball. This is a wake-up call - what does it mean to create new life forms in a test-tube?"

He said Mr Venter was creating a "chassis on which you could build almost anything. It could be a contribution to humanity such as new drugs or a huge threat to humanity such as bio-weapons".

Mr Venter believes designer genomes have enormous positive potential if properly regulated. In the long-term, he hopes they could lead to alternative energy sources previously unthinkable. Bacteria could be created, he speculates, that could help mop up excessive carbon dioxide, thus contributing to the solution to global warming, or produce fuels such as butane or propane made entirely from sugar.

"We are not afraid to take on things that are important just because they stimulate thinking," he said. "We are dealing in big ideas. We are trying to create a new value system for life. When dealing at this scale, you can't expect everybody to be happy."

This is some really exciting shit. Just looking at the variety of life on earth gives us some inkling of the power we would wield should we master the building blocks of life. This has amazing health and environmental implications as well as countless unforeseen consequences. The forum I saw this linked in was doing nothing but bitching about them screwing with Gods design and how God would not be happy. Personally not believing in God I felt a discussion here where things are a little balanced in the belief department would make for some more interesting discussion.
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Old 10-06-2007, 05:51 AM Renork is offline  
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KoL
 
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God's design? So much for that, we just became God.
Well not really, it's not fully synthetic, but it's a huge step foward, Neil Armstrong style.


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Old 10-06-2007, 06:25 AM KoL is offline  
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Wow this is an amazing breakthrough. Just sad that many political figures will have a say and try to put this to a halt based on "ethical" beliefs.
Old 10-06-2007, 08:24 AM kung_fu_hamsta is offline  
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cromicus
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"Governments, and society in general, is way behind the ball. This is a wake-up call - what does it mean to create new life forms in a test-tube?"

Good gravy, I can't believe people can be so bone-headed as this.

"No government has the right to decide on the truth of scientific principles, nor to prescribe in any way the character of the questions investigated. Neither may a government determine the aesthetic value of artistic creations, nor limit the forms of literacy or artistic expression. Nor should it pronounce on the validity of economic, historic, religious, or philosophical doctrines. Instead it has a duty to its citizens to maintain the freedom, to let those citizens contribute to the further adventure and the development of the human race." - Feynman
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Old 10-06-2007, 09:52 AM cromicus is offline  
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Wow this is an amazing breakthrough. Just sad that many political figures will have a say and try to put this to a halt based on "ethical" beliefs.

I can almost see the U.S. laws rolling now... meanwhile europe, australia and south korea advance by leaps and bounds in technology
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Old 10-06-2007, 09:54 AM SnakeIRye is offline  
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Escaped Gorilla Genitals
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I don't see how that's artificial life exactly but it's still pretty cool. I find the abhorrence of genetic modification somewhat ironic since nearly every large animal and plant that comes into regular contact with humans is heavily genetically modified via selective breeding. For some reason people seem to think lab coats and petri dishes make everything more dangerous and scary.
Old 10-06-2007, 01:45 PM Escaped Gorilla Genitals is offline  
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Just wait until the Eugenic obsessed Nazis get their hands on this tech.
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Old 10-07-2007, 01:07 AM Free_Willy is offline  
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Phil Taylor
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Just wait until the Eugenic obsessed Nazis get their hands on this tech.
They just created it. You'll see...
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Old 10-07-2007, 06:05 AM Phil Taylor is offline  
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cromicus
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Originally Posted by Jim Morrison View Post
I don't see how that's artificial life exactly but it's still pretty cool. I find the abhorrence of genetic modification somewhat ironic since nearly every large animal and plant that comes into regular contact with humans is heavily genetically modified via selective breeding. For some reason people seem to think lab coats and petri dishes make everything more dangerous and scary.
It makes perfect sense. People are only afraid of what they don't understand. People understand planting the seeds of the largest apples instead of the smallest ones in order to increase the number of large specimens. People don't understand molecular biology and genetics, so they fear them. Why are people afraid of plane crashes but not car crashes, even though a car crash is far, far more likely? Because they understand how cars work, but not aeroplanes.
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Old 10-08-2007, 05:42 PM cromicus is offline  
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Why are people afraid of plane crashes but not car crashes, even though a car crash is far, far more likely? Because they understand how cars work, but not aeroplanes.

People are afraid of flying for a variety of reasons, but it's rarely related to an understanding of airplane mechanics. In fact, fear of rare events may largely be driven by disproportionate reporting by the media.

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/m...24/ai_58545672

However, you are right in the sense that a lack of scientific literacy often fuels many people's fears of new technology.
Old 10-08-2007, 06:30 PM mathlete is offline  
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