I’m a few days late with this, but still, this one’s a big win for science. And… the implications are staggering.
Life from non-life, and as close to “ex nihilo” as you can get without having to first create matter.
The team put four bottles of chemicals — specifically, cytosine, thymine, guanine and adenine — on a synthesizer and ran their script to build a life form. That’s C, T, G, and A. DNA from scratch. Only this time with an intervening designer. Meaning, no longer do we have to wait millions of years for creatures to evolve naturally — we can write them ourselves, once we’ve figured out all the intricacies of the code. We’re reverse-engineering the life source code engine of this universe. This is a Pandora’s Box that, like many other major achievements, could either save us or kill us all.
Craig Venter, the pioneering US geneticist behind the experiment, said the achievement heralds the dawn of a new era in which new life is made to benefit humanity, starting with bacteria that churn out biofuels, soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and even manufacture vaccines.
The new organism is based on an existing bacterium that causes mastitis in goats, but at its core is an entirely synthetic genome that was constructed from chemicals in the laboratory.
“We were ecstatic when the cells booted up with all the watermarks in place,” Dr Venter told the Guardian. “It’s a living species now, part of our planet’s inventory of life.”
And if it worked perfectly, like computer code, we might be able to fully flesh out and document the entirety of the language before attempting to write something more complex than the simple self-replicator Dr. Venter’s team has made. However, because this is based on chemical processes which do not always work exactly right every single time due to the minute variances that can occur at the microscopic level, mutations can happen. And like every microscopic organism, it’s well possible that these artificially created life forms could become the next Bubonic Plague. That’s not to say it’s LIKELY though, because any microorganism capable of killing its host in short order is not long for this world anyway before natural selection kicks in and kills it for being too successful by eating up all its viable hosts. This is a good thing. A bad thing, though, is that once we know more about rewriting microorganisms, we could be entering the sci-fi realm of designer viruses and accidental multi-species plagues.
With pretty much every new technology, though, there’s an end-of-the-world scenario that could be played out if we’re not careful. The trick is in learning how to protect this information from falling into “evil” hands, meaning no government in any country ever should ever be allowed to pursue research into it. Any weaponized application of synthetic life could spell an apocalypse that would be difficult, if not impossible, to combat.
However critics, including some religious groups, condemned the work, with one organisation warning that artificial organisms could escape into the wild and cause environmental havoc or be turned into biological weapons. Others said Venter was playing God.
“Playing God” simply means “proving that God’s role, if there ever was one in this universe, is within the reach of mankind.” It means that God did things mechanistically, and so can we.