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Anorak | Dr Craig Venter (God 2.0) Creates Synthia And Media Buzz From Nothing, Sort Of

Dr Craig Venter (God 2.0) Creates Synthia And Media Buzz From Nothing, Sort Of

by | 21st, May 2010

DR Craig Venter has created synthetic life from scratch.

Dr Craig Venter is not a Hollywood plastic surgeon. Nothing so starry. He’s a scientist at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Maryland, a place named in honour of the scientist who created life.

Says Venter of Venter, a boffin so good he named himself twice:

Is my science of a level consistent with other people who have gotten the Nobel? Yes.”

New life is called Synthia. Say Venter.

“This is the first synthetic cell that’s been made, and we call it synthetic because the cell is totally derived from a synthetic chromosome, made with four bottles of chemicals on a chemical synthesizer, starting with information in a computer.
“This becomes a very powerful tool for trying to design what we want biology to do. We have a wide range of applications [in mind].”

Noses. Ears. Faces. A new Michael Jackson. This one can do the let. But what of this creating life – Dr Venter used a mix of chemicals, he obtained from where. The BBC tells us:

The researchers copied an existing bacterial genome. They sequenced its genetic code and then used “synthesis machines” to chemically construct a copy.Dr Venter told BBC News: “We’ve now been able to take our synthetic chromosome and transplant it into a recipient cell – a different organism. As soon as this new software goes into the cell, the cell reads [it] and converts into the species specified in that genetic code.”

The new bacteria replicated over a billion times, producing copies that contained and were controlled by the constructed, synthetic DNA.

“This is the first time any synthetic DNA has been in complete control of a cell,” said Dr Venter.

But is this the creation of life if they needed a bacterial host to produce this new organism?

Never mind the details, get a load of the press release. Sky News marvels at the possible uses:

Applications of the study include the production of medicines and biofuels, and could even help in the absorption of greenhouse gases.

Where’s there’s life there’s brass. Says Dr Craig Venter:

“This is the first synthetic cell that’s been made, and we call it synthetic because the cell is totally derived from a synthetic chromosome. This is an important step we think, both scientifically and philosophically. It’s certainly changed my views of the definitions of life and how life works.”

So says Dr Venter of the Venter Institute. And who better to discuss the ethical value of this work than Sky’s health correspondent – get this – Thomas Moore.

“He’s the man who has opened up a new chapter, where we are not just looking at life that has evolved – but life that is created in a laboratory.”

Ethicist Dr Tom Douglas says:

“Some will worry about the idea that this involves a problematic form of playing God.”

Only playing?

“I think the greatest issue posed by this research is not really anything to do with the fact that it’s artificial life as such, it’s got to do with the potential for this kind of research to be misused to create pathogens that could be used in biological weapons.”

So, we’ve got both sides of the speculation as to how a yeast cell injected with synthetic DNA can kill and save us all.

The Indy leads with the headline:

“The implications for the future of humanity are so huge as to be scarcely imaginable.”

Unless you get your news from Sky or James Cameron.

“Ethical storm as maverick scientist makes synthetic cell,” says the Mail’s front-page headline.

Venter is the Guardian’s “God 2.0”.

Or to put it another way, God is Dr Venter 1.0.



Posted: 21st, May 2010 | In: Reviews Comments (6) | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink