Scientists play God: first species on our planet “created” by a computer

FT.com (May 20, 2010) :

“Craig Venter, the US genomics pioneer, announced on Thursday that scientists at his laboratories in Maryland and California had succeeded in their 15-year project to make the world’s first “synthetic cells” – bacteria called Mycoplasma mycoides“.

We report the design, synthesis and assembly of the 1.08- Mbp Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0 genome starting from digitized genome sequence information and its transplantation into a Mycoplasma capricolum recipient cell to create new Mycoplasma mycoides cells that are controlled only by the synthetic chromosome. The only DNA in the cells is the designed synthetic DNA sequence, including “watermark” sequences and other designed gene deletions and polymorphisms, and mutations acquired during the building process. The new cells have expected phenotypic properties and are capable of continuous self-replication. (Read the Dr. Craig Venter article HERE).

Dr. William Dembski replies:

The rhetoric is interesting. What they’ve done is stuck a synthetic genome inside a nonsynthetic cell. Nonetheless, they’ve slipped into talking of a “synthetic bacterial cell.” Indeed, one headline reads “The First Self-Replicating Synthetic Bacterial Cell.” This is hype.

If something is going to be called “synthetic,” shouldn’t the whole of it be synthesized and not merely a minuscule portion of it? Also, does such a cell knowably signal design and, if so, why wouldn’t cells untouched by Synthetic Genomics do the same, i.e., implicate design?

Scotsman.com:

Dr King, of Human Genetics Alert, urged caution.

The claim of authorship of nature goes hand in hand with the claim to monopoly patent rights over it,” he said. “Scientists’ understanding of biology falls far short of their technical capabilities.” He added: “We have already learned to our cost the risks that gap brings, for the environment, animal welfare and human health.

Ethics expert Prof Savulescu said:

Venter is creaking open the most profound door in humanity’s history, potentially peeking into its destiny. This is a step towards something controversial: creation of living beings with capacities and natures that could never have naturally evolved.

The potential is in the far future, but real and significant – dealing with pollution, new energy sources, new forms of communication. But the risks are also unparalleled.

“We need new standards of safety evaluation for this kind of radical research, and protections from military or terrorist misuse and abuse.

The research, published yesterday, marked the culmination of 15 years’ effort at a total cost of about £30 million.

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