Synthetic life?

Well, here’s something to take our minds off the fruit bats. Craig Venter, the scientist and entrepreneur who was one of those who developed the human genome project a few years ago, has according to news reports managed to create a living cell through an artificial process. It is being described in the media and elsewhere as ‘synthetic life’ though if I understand correctly the process that he has used, it may not be an entirely accurate description, in that he used an existing cell that he then programmed with new genetic information. Or something like that.

And as you might imagine, a group of bishops were off and running the moment the starter’s pistol fired. An Italian bishop offered the following comment this morning:

‘In the wrong hands, today’s novelty could lead to a devastating step into the unknown tomorrow. Man comes to God, but he is not God: he remains human and he has the possibility to give life through procreation, not through constructing it artificially.’

Right now the scientists are not talking about ‘creating’ living creatures, but rather the potential of using this developing technique to treat or cure diseases. But it is clear that the longer term potential of such discoveries should prompt an in-depth ethical debate – which, however, might have to include the question why ‘procreated’ life is ethically more sound than ‘created’ life. But equally we need to ask how far we would go to develop life forms and for what purposes we would ‘use’ them.

There are interesting times ahead.

Explore posts in the same categories: ethics, science, society

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15 Comments on “Synthetic life?”

  1. John Says:

    God really ought to understand we created him too.

  2. Sally Says:

    I create life every time I give birth.

  3. John Says:

    The really exciting thing about genetics to me is that it will enables us to better understand ourselves. The human genome project is a great leap forward in that respect.

  4. Sally Says:

    And the really controversial thing is that it will show us we are not all created equal.

  5. John Says:

    Yes, it will show we all have different potential strengths and weaknesses and what those are – to quantify them. This is not to say we should necessarily ‘play’ to our strengths – we might equally choose to brush up on our weaknesses.

  6. Sally Says:

    And Nature and Nurture will no longer be seen as alternatives, but complementary.

  7. John Says:

    On the educational front, we may decide to provide more training to the less-able in a particular area than the gifted, since they need it more.

  8. Sally Says:

    That would depend on whether or not we valued uniformity over diversity. Ultimately, I’d leave that to the individual. I suppose it really depends on whether we adopt a man-for-society or society-for-man perspective.

  9. John Says:

    Perhaps. We need to think this through.

  10. Sally Says:

    Just a final comment. You said earlier that man created God, by which I assume you mean the concept we call God.

  11. John Says:

    Of course.

  12. Sally Says:

    Well he created ethics too.

  13. John Says:

    … and can modify it/them any time he likes. 🙂

  14. Victor Says:

    Aside from moral concerns the issue is the very real potential for serious risk to human and other life on the planet.

    From the original report

    ” The risks are unparalleled, we need safety evaluation for this kind of radical research and protections from military or terrorist misuse

    Julian Savulescu Oxford University”

    We are more concerned about the risks of mutation and vectoring, —- by accident

    The Black Deaths in Europe and the eradication of many millions of native Americans were the result of the introduction of new life form for those populations —by accident and ignorance.

    The UCC Med School could recruit some serious world class Decision/Risk scientists to address these questions— once they get rid of the clown– Dylan Evans.

    With right competent faculty the Gates Foundation etc will fund it


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