Do we want to regulate artificial life?  Or should we simply let new lifeforms evolve as they must and come into being as they want to join us, destroy us, or find their end with us?

Here’s the news that broke the world:

Scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute have created a synthetic bacterial cell using manufactured DNA. The research has been completed after 15 years of hard work and around $40 million was spend on it. The technology could be used in biofuels, vaccines, pharmaceuticals, clean water projects and food products.

However, some experts have urged the global community to move cautiously before taking steps to create human-made organisms. The researchers synthesized the 1.08 million base pair chromosome of a modified Mycoplasma mycoides genome. The institute stressed that the knowledge gained from the project will be used for beneficial purposes. The technology could be used in biofuels, vaccines, pharmaceuticals, clean water projects and food products.

Meanwhile, The National Farmers Union(NFU) has expressed concerns that the development of a synthetic cell could lead to worrisome, long-term consequences. The NFU president Terry Boehm called the world’s first “100 per cent synthetic life form” a risk “for humankind and the environment.”

Reaction to Dr. Venter’s success was immediate and resounding:

The single-celled organism has four “watermarks” written into its DNA to identify it as synthetic and help trace its descendants back to their creator, should they go astray.

“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.” Dr. Venter’s team developed a new code based on the four letters of the genetic code, G, T, C and A, that allowed them to draw on the whole alphabet, numbers and punctuation marks to write the watermarks. Anyone who cracks the code is invited to email an address written into the DNA. …

Julian Savulescu, professor of practical ethics at Oxford University, said: “Venter is creaking open the most profound door in humanity’s history, potentially peeking into its destiny. He is not merely copying life artificially … or modifying it radically by genetic engineering. He is going towards the role of a god: creating artificial life that could never have existed naturally.” This is “a defining moment in the history of biology and biotechnology,” Mark Bedau, a philosopher at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, told Science.

Is Dr. Venter creating life or only mocking it by aping established DNA structures?

The inventors said the world’s first synthetic cell is more a re-creation of existing life — changing one simple type of bacterium into another — than a built-from-scratch kind.

But genome-mapping pioneer J. Craig Venter said his team’s project paves the way for designing organisms that work differently from the way nature intended for a wide range of uses.

A top Italian cardinal, Angelo Bagnasco, said the invention is “further sign of intelligence, God’s gift to understand creation and be able to better govern it,” according to Apcom and Ansa news agencies.

“On the other hand, intelligence can never be without responsibility,” said Cardinal Bagnasco, the head of the Italian bishops’ conference. “Any form of intelligence and any scientific acquisition … must always be measured against the ethical dimension, which has at its heart the true dignity of every person.”

All beginnings are also endings — and great human care should be metered and tempered as we bring new organisms and beings into being.

Do new forms have a right to live even if it means our dying is part of their evolution?

If not, then how do we explain the everyday evolution of infants into adulthood?

I don’t know if we can really regulate new lifeforms — be they scientifically mocked or evolutionarily generated — when new life arrives in the cogent context of the world, all rules and laws are rendered asunder as the organism’s want to recreate to survive becomes the lonely mandate of the new hope in a dangerous world where all good things invented to help us often end up controlling us in ways we never wished or imagined.

4 Comments

  1. I would say no being has a right to live if it means dying is part of their evolution — that was the point of the Daleks on Doctor Who — they were so highly evolved that they could only exist by exterminating every other life in the universe. That’s just not right.

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