Friday, May 21, 2010

Newsy: Synthetic Cell Creation

It could be the first step to creating synthetic vaccines and biofuels. Its inventor says it's "the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer."
Is it a huge new step toward creating artificial life? Or altering life as we know it? Genome pioneer J. Craig Venter has synthesized an entire bacterial genome. Then, he let it take over a cell. Venter says its the first self-replicating species on the planet --- whose parent is a computer.
We're looking at reaction to the creation from the Center for American Progress, Friends of the Earth, Kotaku,, and The New York Times.
First to Jonathan D. Mareno with the liberal think tank Center for American Progress who explains why this creation is so important: "What the institute has been able to do is take one of these synthetic chromosomes, put it into the nucleus of a cell, and in a sense, reboot the cell, to make it follow the instructions of this synthetic chromosome, so you might say they made a synthetic cell."
Friends of the Earth, an environmental group, denounced the synthetic genome: "...(Venter) has taken genetic engineering to an extreme new level. These new synthetic chromosomes mimic billions of years of evolution." 
The blogger Kotaku says, we're doomed: "In layman's terms, he wants to create life. Not just any life, but the sort that we humans can control to our own ends....If that's not the plot to a 70's B-grade horror film, I don't know what is."
Venter just spoke to GenBank's 25th Anniversary courtesy Video Latte. He admits, now that he's taken over one cell, doing it again and again -- should be a cinch: "What took us four years to do in making this first large chromosome we can now do in a very short period of time."
But in an article entitled's Health Care Blogger says, this doesn't mean computer-created life-forms are about to take over the earth: "Don't panic, or get caught in the circle of hype that will be created as these critics clash with gauzy eyed scientists. There's plenty of time for society to figure out what to do with this new technology..."
In fact, scientist David Baltimore tells The New York Times, he's not sure this is all that big a deal: “To my mind Craig has somewhat overplayed the importance of this, He has not created life, only mimicked it."
So what do you think of synthetic cells? Unlocking the door to a better life? Or Pandora's box?

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