Friday, January 25, 2008

Big Advance Reported in Effort to Synthesize Life

Scientists keep encroaching further on God’s territory. This time, they’ve managed to synthesize the entire genome (a strand of DNA) for bacteria, reports the NY Times. The next step in the process would be to inject the synthetic DNA into a cell and see if it takes over.

According to the times this “watershed in the emerging field called synthetic biology” is the first step for a team aiming to “create the first synthetic organism.” What does that mean? Like making cats, horses and dogs? Pretty much. “Synthetic biologists envision being able one day to design an organism on a computer, press the ‘print’ button to have the necessary DNA made, and then put that DNA into a cell to produce a custom-made creature.”

At once this is both awe inspiring and utterly terrifying. On the good side, let’s say a species suddenly goes instinct, all you’d need do is but up your God-class computer, pull up the right file, hit “print” and you’re done. On the evil side, let’s say you’re a terrorist that wants to wipeout a small town with ebola viruses? A jar full of the little monsters could be a mouse-click away.

Some in the scientific community remain skeptical. “They have no idea whether it is biologically active,” said one scientist of the newly synthesized DNA. Another curmudgeonly man of science grumbled to the Times, “all they’ve done is shown they can buy a bunch of DNA and put it together.”

Indeed, the team that pulled off the synthetic DNA feat spliced together about 100 pre-fabricated sequences of 5,000 to 7,000 base pairs. (It takes almost 600,000 bases to make a bacteria’s DNA.) But the process of buying a bunch of DNA and putting it together (sounds so simple, don’t it) took about five years and millions of dollars.

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.