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A new step toward synthetic life
Posted: 29 June 2007 10:13 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Scientists have long considered DNA the instruction manual for biological life Each species has its own unique set of instructions, or genes. And for just as long, scientists have wondered if by swapping these instruction manuals, they could transform one organism into another.
Now, in a key experiment for the nascent field of designing life from scratch, scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Md., have done just that. They have successfully transplanted the entire genome of one bacterium species into another, changing the recipient into an organism that looks, feels, and for all intents and purposes is, the donor.

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Posted: 29 June 2007 10:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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It’s a very small step, mind you.

They’ve taken the chromosome from one species of goat microbe, one noted for its small genome and absence of fiddly cell walls, and put it in a very closely related species of goat microbe, with these same advantages.

In the steps to synthetic life stakes, this is more like tying your shoelaces in a fancy double-bow prior to taking that first step. It looks impressive, but it’s more about getting the technique right than making progress.

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Posted: 29 June 2007 10:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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David, what do you make of the ethics and safety issues involved as scientists take the next logical step and move toward designing organisms completely from scratch?

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Posted: 29 June 2007 11:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Why would it be unethical?

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Posted: 29 June 2007 11:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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That depends on a particular person’s ethics, I suppose.

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“If any man wish to write in a clear style, let him be first clear in his thoughts.”

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Posted: 29 June 2007 11:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Stargazer - 29 June 2007 03:24 PM

Why would it be unethical?

Well to someone with a religious bent it would be akin to playing God.  To someone like me who is a closet geek, it’s a neat idea.  Depends on your definition of ethical.  And everyone’s is different.

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Posted: 29 June 2007 12:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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To call it “playing God” you must make at least one blasphemous statement somewhere along the line. Do you have evidence from your religious texts that God doesn’t want us doing such a thing? After all, Genesis said that He gave us domain over the animals.

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Posted: 29 June 2007 12:10 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Stargazer - 29 June 2007 04:08 PM

To call it “playing God” you must make at least one blasphemous statement somewhere along the line. Do you have evidence from your religious texts that God doesn’t want us doing such a thing? After all, Genesis said that He gave us domain over the animals.

Me?  Religious?  Surely you jest.  I was using the term in the common manner.  ie: god supposedly created all life on earth and now scientists are doing it.  ergo they are playing god.

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Posted: 29 June 2007 12:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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The AAAS’s take on it (from two years ago) is here. Basically, it’s two main points are the potential for misuse, and who’s responsible if you make a living thing and it goes awry.

If I make a 7’ high robot and it runs amok, there’s no question who the lawyers are going to be calling on. If I make a pollution eating microbe and it evolves to eat everyone’s car tyres, is citing “Darwinism” enough to absolve me of responsibility? Should it be? Am I required to ‘sign’ my creation so it can be traced back to me if found where it shouldn’t be? Am I required to include a ‘killswitch’ for safety purposes? What if my k/s evolves out? Is that my fault? Do I need to monitor my creations genome for potentially harmful drift? Am I then responsible for its ‘maintenance’? What can and can’t I create an organism to do? Might an organism that produces feelings of calm be a good thing? What about one that only does so when I am in the room?

That’s sort of ethical issues being discussed.

(Edit: wow, did that link ever go astray!)

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Posted: 29 June 2007 12:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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nicely summed up.

do you think these questions will be answered before it happens?

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Posted: 29 June 2007 12:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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sort of the same questions evoked by the Singularity

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Posted: 29 June 2007 12:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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gray - 29 June 2007 04:10 PM
Stargazer - 29 June 2007 04:08 PM

To call it “playing God” you must make at least one blasphemous statement somewhere along the line. Do you have evidence from your religious texts that God doesn’t want us doing such a thing? After all, Genesis said that He gave us domain over the animals.

Me?  Religious?  Surely you jest.  I was using the term in the common manner.  ie: god supposedly created all life on earth and now scientists are doing it.  ergo they are playing god.

And I was using the term “you” in the common manner. As in “one must make at least…”

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So I can just type anything and it will show up here?

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