Author Topic: Scientists create artificial life.  (Read 4094 times)

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Offline Kobuk

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Scientists create artificial life.
« on: May 20, 2010, 11:17:13 pm »
Saw this on the Net today:

Quote
Scientists in the US have succeeded in developing the first synthetic living cell.

The researchers constructed a bacterium's "genetic software" and transplanted it into a host cell.

The resulting microbe then looked and behaved like the species "dictated" by the synthetic DNA.

The advance, published in Science, has been hailed as a scientific landmark, but critics say there are dangers posed by synthetic organisms.

The researchers hope eventually to design bacterial cells that will produce medicines and fuels and even absorb greenhouse gases.

The team was led by Dr Craig Venter of the J Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) in Maryland and California.

He and his colleagues had previously made a synthetic bacterial genome, and transplanted the genome of one bacterium into another.

Now, the scientists have put both methods together, to create what they call a "synthetic cell", although only its genome is truly synthetic.

Dr Venter likened the advance to making new software for the cell.

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.

'New industrial revolution'

Dr Venter and his colleagues hope eventually to design and build new bacteria that will perform useful functions.

"I think they're going to potentially create a new industrial revolution," he said.

"If we can really get cells to do the production that we want, they could help wean us off oil and reverse some of the damage to the environment by capturing carbon dioxide."

Dr Venter and his colleagues are already collaborating with pharmaceutical and fuel companies to design and develop chromosomes for bacteria that would produce useful fuels and new vaccines.

But critics say that the potential benefits of synthetic organisms have been overstated.

Dr Helen Wallace from Genewatch UK, an organisation that monitors developments in genetic technologies, told BBC News that synthetic bacteria could be dangerous.

"If you release new organisms into the environment, you can do more harm than good," she said.

"By releasing them into areas of pollution, [with the aim of cleaning it up], you're actually releasing a new kind of pollution.

"We don't know how these organisms will behave in the environment."

Dr Wallace accused Dr Venter of playing down the potential drawbacks.

"He isn't God," she said, "he's actually being very human; trying to get money invested in his technology and avoid regulation that would restrict its use."

But Dr Venter said that he was "driving the discussions" about the regulations governing this relatively new scientific field and about the ethical implications of the work.

He said: "In 2003, when we made the first synthetic virus, it underwent an extensive ethical review that went all the way up to the level of the White House.

"And there have been extensive reviews including from the National Academy of Sciences, which has done a comprehensive report on this new field.

"We think these are important issues and we urge continued discussion that we want to take part in."
Ethical discussions

Dr Gos Micklem, a geneticist from the University of Cambridge, said that the advance was "undoubtedly a landmark" study.

But, he said, "there is already a wealth of simple, cheap, powerful and mature techniques for genetically engineering a range of organisms. Therefore, for the time being, this approach is unlikely to supplant existing methods for genetic engineering".

The ethical discussions surrounding the creation of synthetic or artificial life are set to continue.

Professor Julian Savulescu, from the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, said the potential of this science was "in the far future, but real and significant".

"But the risks are also unparalleled," he continued. "We need new standards of safety evaluation for this kind of radical research and protections from military or terrorist misuse and abuse.

"These could be used in the future to make the most powerful bioweapons imaginable. The challenge is to eat the fruit without the worm."

The advance did not pose a danger in the form of bio-terrorism, Dr Venter said.

"That was reviewed extensively in the US in a report from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a Washington defence think tank, indicating that there were very small new dangers from this.

"Most people are in agreement that there is a slight increase in the potential for harm. But there's an exponential increase in the potential benefit to society," he told BBC's Newsnight.

"The flu vaccine you'll get next year could be developed by these processes," he added.

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Offline Foxpup

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Re: Scientists create artificial life.
« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2010, 11:51:55 pm »
The future is awesome. That is all.
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Offline Yip

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Re: Scientists create artificial life.
« Reply #2 on: May 21, 2010, 12:11:37 am »
When you get down to it, every living thing on the planet is essentially made of the same stuff. The difference is how it's put together. When we figure out how to control that, the possible benefits are astounding.  I see this as a step in that direction.

I said "when" an not "if" because I fully expect us to one day achieve great advances in that direction. Whether it'll happen in our lifetime, I don't know. But the future holds wonders that today we can't even imagine.  My biggest question is whether we as a species will be collectively mature enough to handle that kind of power when we achieve it. 

Offline Kay Alett

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Re: Scientists create artificial life.
« Reply #3 on: May 21, 2010, 12:44:17 am »
I expect many troubles in their future from religious folks.
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Offline Kaloth

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Re: Scientists create artificial life.
« Reply #4 on: May 21, 2010, 01:08:45 am »
And perhaps some of us not so religious folk.

Offline Foxpup

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Re: Scientists create artificial life.
« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2010, 01:22:58 am »
My biggest question is whether we as a species will be collectively mature enough to handle that kind of power when we achieve it. 
We won't. But it won't matter. If this gets out of control, as seems likely, it'll just be yet another deadly disease outbreak. A bunch of people will probably die horribly, but it won't be the end of the world (although the media will act like it is). Eventually, people will stop caring that they're dying horribly due to the new technology, like they did with cars.
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Offline Kaloth

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Re: Scientists create artificial life.
« Reply #6 on: May 21, 2010, 01:47:56 am »
To append my earlier statement with a bit more substance. I am strongly opposed to genetic engineering on many levels. I would go into detail but I am exhausted and have little mental faculties at the moments. One of my big arguments comes from Aldous Huxley's A Brave New World I won't spoil it for those of you who haven't read it, but it is a science fiction novel about a dystopian society where genetic engineering plays a very heavy role. I know it is science fiction, but if it is written, that means it is within our imagination, and thus we are able to achieve it.

((Side note: I recommend A Brave New World to anyone and everyone, it is a great book.))

Offline Avan

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Re: Scientists create artificial life.
« Reply #7 on: May 21, 2010, 09:22:41 am »
Nice, pretty simple relatively speaking, but I must say, a job well done. Then again it was written all from scratch.

---

Kaloth; seeing as you've gotten your impressions from a work of fiction...

Here are a few tropes you need to look at:
"Science is Bad"
"Did not do the research"
"Dan Browned"
"Straw Dystopia"
"Anvillicious"
"Fantastical Aesop"
..to name a few. If you are getting your impressions about a technology based off of literary devices (and methods, which may or may not result in accurate information), there's already very little validity to your argument. Simply because something can be imagined does not mean it will be done or even happen that way. Conspiracy theories for example. How many of those ridiculously convoluted things could possibly even by PLAUSIBLE? Pretty much none.

Quite simply people can write all sorts of twisted and untrue things about science that do not follow any sort of truly logical patterns.

What is so different from genetically engineering things to engineering nanobots or toasters for that matter? Only the knowledge and equipment required to do each of the tasks.

As long as its used safely - (ie, not making genetically modified crops to include some new pest resistance only to find out it's toxic to consume AFTER it's been sold), but that pretty much only happens when people are really corrupt, cutting corners to save money; such drastic corner cutting is very rarely seen; and it doesn't happen by negligence either - it can be a great tool.

And what's the difference between genetic engineering and artificial selection (breeding) beyond this being a vastly more powerful variant to get the end type of organism desired? Nothing beyond trivial differences by definition, but only dictionary writers would be concerned about those.

---------

Lastly, for something to be an effective pathogen, it would likely have to be specifically designed to act as a pathogen; pretty much all bacteria that have been genetically modified are so abysmally weak that they fail to survive anywhere but the petri dish; the insides of an organism would kill them.

------------------------------------------------
EDIT:
Since I decided the premise of the book is ok to give away, since it's not actually spoilers or anything...
That's basically a society like that DONE WRONG. What kind of complete moron would try to design a society that functions like that and try to think it good? Of course, because this is a work of literature, it's SUPPOSED to be bad, and people are supposed to ignore the fridge logic and also ignore that it's a straw dystopia.
« Last Edit: May 21, 2010, 09:36:55 am by Avan »
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Offline Kaloth

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Re: Scientists create artificial life.
« Reply #8 on: May 21, 2010, 11:17:58 am »
I was actually saying that expresses my feelings not that is the basis of my argument. My argument is that I am morally and spiritually opposed to the concept of genetic engineering. I am very big into new age things, and I believe in the spiritual power of nature. I will not rant because I don't really care, nothing I say will change anyone's minds or stop it from happening.

((Er: Please disregard this, I realize how it sounds, but I'm frustrated about something completely different and I think it is showing through. I would edit to make it better, but I can't really think of how at the moment.))
« Last Edit: May 21, 2010, 11:33:42 am by Kaloth »

Offline Avan

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Re: Scientists create artificial life.
« Reply #9 on: May 21, 2010, 08:47:15 pm »
[If anything comes off as harsh, that's simply because of the wording in that I speak this post without emotion - I am stating facts on my position, nothing more.]

I am not entirely sure I understand what you are saying.

You are basing your argument off of your feelings/emotions? (That you feel this is wrong?)

What do you mean by 'new age things'?

---

You are correct in realizing that you cannot change my opinion on this matter. I am of a polar opposite perspective, having decided that I am morally* obligated to perform whatever genetic engineering is necessary to fulfill the Process, seeing as it is the currently logically best way to achieve Phase 1.

*My moral code is based off of Pure Logic (logic from the standpoint of Existence), thus it is not an emotionally-based moral code.
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Offline Kobuk

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Re: Scientists create artificial life.
« Reply #10 on: May 21, 2010, 08:47:56 pm »
Quote
Simply because something can be imagined does not mean it will be done or even happen that way.

@Avan:  Then I guess you've never heard the phrase: "Science fiction has a tendency of becoming science fact."

Everything that we take for granted in our modern world like cell phones, submarines, flying aircraft, etc., etc., etc. was thought of long, long, long ago by dreamers and inventors. A lot of people said these things couldn't or wouldn't happen, but they did.

Who knows what the future will be like 5, 15, or even 50 years from now?
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Offline Avan

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Re: Scientists create artificial life.
« Reply #11 on: May 21, 2010, 08:50:57 pm »
You're misinterpreting the statement I made. What I'm saying is that it does not necessarily have to come true.

I can imagine that pie will take over the universe by spreading waffle bombs into every flower in antarctica by using magical pink sparklies.

As if that would ever happen though.

I know that the example is severely exaggerated, but the point stands.

Furthermore, there is a difference between coming up with the idea for creating something and what the ramifications of creating that something are. ESPECIALLY when said ramifications hinge on plot convolutions.
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Re: Scientists create artificial life.
« Reply #12 on: May 22, 2010, 01:06:30 pm »
I am not against genetic research, but it should be regulated so it's
not run totally by people wanting to get rich.

Mankind must work to create new ways to improve food, and energy
production or the future will be bleak indeed for millions, or perhaps billions.

New organisms should be designed with critical vulnerabilities  so if
they prove to be bad they will likely disappear on their own.







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Re: Scientists create artificial life.
« Reply #13 on: May 22, 2010, 03:28:03 pm »
My biggest question is whether we as a species will be collectively mature enough to handle that kind of power when we achieve it. 
We won't. But it won't matter. If this gets out of control, as seems likely, it'll just be yet another deadly disease outbreak. A bunch of people will probably die horribly, but it won't be the end of the world (although the media will act like it is). Eventually, people will stop caring that they're dying horribly due to the new technology, like they did with cars.
Actually, I wasn't talking about this advance in particular. I was talking about where I see this kind of technology leading many years from now.

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Re: Scientists create artificial life.
« Reply #14 on: May 23, 2010, 01:17:06 am »
There were a couple of things, Avan, that I'd like to note in response to parts of one of your posts.


What is so different from genetically engineering things to engineering nanobots or toasters for that matter? Only the knowledge and equipment required to do each of the tasks.

Actually, there is one substantial difference between the technologies that you have listed, namely, the severity of the consequences that each would be prone to in potential undesirable scenarios.  A toaster, in an undesirable case, might catch on fire.  A part of the house in question (at the very least, the toaster itself) would burn, and even in the worst of the remotely feasible undesirable cases, the fire from a toaster might burn a section of a town or city before firefighters would be able to stop it.

Contrast this to the undesirable cases of genetic engineering.  An unintended result of genetic engineering in an undesirable case might be the disruption of the balance in whatever ecosystem genetically modified creatures were introduced to.  For an example of such a phenomenon, consider the Asian lady beetle (an insect that looks like a tannish ladybug).  In Asia, they were a natural part of the ecosystem, and thus existed in a reasonable number.  When they were introduced into America to act as a natural predator to a domestic farming pest, they themselves became a nearly innumerable pest to the general population because there existed no natural predator for them in their new habitat.  Genetic engineering has an even greater potential to influence ecosystems than the introduction of species to different habitats, but with this greater potential to influence comes the greater potential to influence ineptly.  Until the practice of genetic engineering is more perfected, and if the practice of genetic engineering  is not always used appropriately, there exists the possibility that scientific "tinkerings" might have a result that is similar in nature to, but more extreme in adverse effect, than that of the introduction of Asian lady beetles to America.  Such a consequence, if one were to come to fruition, has the potential be much more detrimental to humankind than even the worst imaginable toaster spawned disaster.

And what's the difference between genetic engineering and artificial selection (breeding) beyond this being a vastly more powerful variant to get the end type of organism desired? Nothing beyond trivial differences by definition, but only dictionary writers would be concerned about those.

The difference between these two things is the process by which each method achieves the same end result (the selection of traits for new generations).  Natural selection, though not necessarily "perfect", is effective in the sense that potential new traits for a population are integrated sparsely and consistently over time.  If such a trait is desirable (i.e., if it make its owners more likely to survive), then the trait itself will survive to eventually exist in most of the population.  If, on the other hand, such a trait is not desirable (makes its owners less likely to survive), then the trait will not spread to as large of a portion of the population, if it spreads at all.  This process balances both the needs of the current generation to have a population fit for its present environment and those of future generations to have new traits that might be appropriate for new environments.

Genetic engineering, though, effectively substitutes human expectations of the effectiveness of certain traits for nature's process of trial and error.  Even if the potential moral issues of this were to be temporarily overlooked, there still exists the possibility that humankind will inadvertantly manufacure unintended side effects by attempting to create a "magic formula" genetically.  Even if this isn't taken to an extent as extreme as Hitler's "blonde hair, blue eyes, German, etc." formula, this would have the potential to cause a practical problem due to the resulting lack of genetic diversity.  Even a "formula" as innocent as "not blind, not deaf, no atypical organ development, etc." could be problematic if a trait that was previously seen as "only a defect" turns out to be beneficial in a scenario encountered in the future.  Sickle cell anemia is an example of this; this mutation that results in several negative health effects has the side effect of making the partially afflicted more likely than the general population to survive malaria.  If genetic engineering removes all instances of certain "defects", then there exists the possibility that a trait that might have been helpful in a future epidemic is unable to exist because it had previously been eradicated.  Such a mistake would not be able to be fixed in time.


To sum things up, I believe that this developing technology is one that is promising and should be pursued, but I believe it should be pursued only if cautiously, given its capacity to be misused.  Avan, I realize that this technology plays heavily into your idea of utopia, and I also realize that you consequently desire mankind to have this technology as soon as possible.  However, it's also important to remember that the incorrect pursuit of this technology could very well lead to dystopia.  You note that the fact that a scenario can be imagined is not proof in of itself that it is feasible or possible, but it is important to nonetheless consider theoretical consequences and, more importantly, the possible ways in which theoretical consequences can develop so that negative potential consequences can be avoided in the future.

...

I apologize for the wall of text.  I didn't realize that my response was going to be this long.
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Offline Avan

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Re: Scientists create artificial life.
« Reply #15 on: May 23, 2010, 09:06:37 am »
You are over emphasizing the things that can go wrong. Severely.

For example, may of the edits that are being made are harmless tiny little edits. Engineering a toaster is the same way.
When you get to something of that level of magnitude, such as soemthing capable of accidentally disrupting entire ecosystems, it's like constructing a toaster that can accidentally disrupt an entire city's power grid... followed by a massive explosion - it can be done, but, you'd REALLY have to go out of your way to do it.

Seriously - the potential for things to go wrong is being massively exaggerated.  (I suppose it's merely because the projects that could go that wrong get the most publicity, and then that stigma gets applied to all the others, which is rather silly, especially when you consider a good number of these are merely for science and medical purposes involving nothing but bacteria producing hormones and enzymes.)
« Last Edit: May 23, 2010, 09:12:00 am by Avan »
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Offline Kobuk

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Re: Scientists create artificial life.
« Reply #16 on: May 23, 2010, 10:16:09 am »
Quote
Seriously - the potential for things to go wrong is being massively exaggerated.  (I suppose it's merely because the projects that could go that wrong get the most publicity, and then that stigma gets applied to all the others, which is rather silly, especially when you consider a good number of these are merely for science and medical purposes involving nothing but bacteria producing hormones and enzymes.)

You may think that things are being blown way out of proportion, but for me and maybe a few others, I'd rather see things being played safe than being sorry. The possibilities for this type of science/technology to be misused are endless. All it takes is some unprincipled doctor with low morals, values, and ethics or some third world country to get a hold of this science, namely creating artificial life,  and then things will get misused.
Even if you think the tiniest experiment from this type of science that will be beneficial to humankind could do no wrong, then you are wrong. Remember Murphy's Law? --> "Whatever can go wrong usually does."
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Offline Avan

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Re: Scientists create artificial life.
« Reply #17 on: May 23, 2010, 10:34:56 am »
I'm not saying that things shouldn't be done safely, but that things are being looked at from too paranoid of a perspective. Look at nuclear energy for example; it's being done SAFELY in places like france, yet in the u.s. it's been stalled out because people have those annoying stigmas.
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Offline J. March OHare

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Re: Scientists create artificial life.
« Reply #18 on: May 23, 2010, 10:55:14 pm »
I'm surprised any Furries would be against this. Imagine your perfect anthro love interest, designed on a computer to your specifications... and he or she is property!

Oooooo... maybe not so good.

Like it or not, synthetic organisms will be designed, restrictions be damned. It really is a double-edged sword. I don't fear the technology one iota. Technology is just a tool, but people scare the bejesus out of me. Don't think for a minute that this work won't go forward with the impetus of money and power, because ALL human enterprise goes forward with that impetus. You don't have to like the idea that "greed is good," but those at the very top of the heap think it is, and they are where they are because of it.

Actually, economic reality--the existence of money--scares me more than synthetic genomes or anything else, and money has been around for so long its origin is back in the mist of history with the discovery of fire. Money really is the root of all evil; however, until we develop Star Trek-like technology that provides cheap, virtually limitless energy from which every need of humankind can be synthesized, we're going to be stuck with it.

Some people would hate that kind of technology. They don't want a level playing field. It's not enough that they win; others must lose. They like being at the top of the heap. That attitude describes every last man- and woman-jack who's reached the pinnacle of global wealth. They don't think like you or I. For them, winning isn't everything--it's the only thing.

This technology doesn't scare me. They do. And of course, they will control it. They control everything. Even your elected "representatives" dance to their tune. If we end up voting them all out of office this year, the real movers-and-shakers on this planet will just buy some new ones.

Campaign financing and free publicity courtesy of the MSM are everything. Those goons dance with the ones who brung 'em. They don't dance for you. You and I are zeroes.

That said, regarding the technology itself, I can't quite think of it as "synthetic life." Scientists wrote the code with a lot of help from computers, but the "shell" into which they inserted it was from a pre-existing bacterium. They synthesized a genome, about 1.1 million base pairs of DNA; they did not manufacture the cell wall, the cytosol, the organelles or anything else that makes up the "shell." We now know that we can write the software, but the origin of the computer that runs it is still a mystery.

What can we do with this? Anything. Literally anything, positive or negative. I don't believe those like Julian Savulescu either, who said the potential of this science was "in the far future." The ability to cobble this DNA together was due to advances in computers and software, and unless we collapse back into the Stone Age, that's going to continue to explode at an exponential rate. We'll be reaping enormous benefits (and possibly curses) from this technology within five to ten years, not in the "far future" that Savulescu predicts.

Offline Shim

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Re: Scientists create artificial life.
« Reply #19 on: May 23, 2010, 11:49:21 pm »
All I can really do here is repeat, and reword, more simply, because I'm not as well spoken as some of the older posters here, but..Pretty much what J. said.  Its not that I'm afraid of this existing, but what will be done with it.  For now?  Nobody knows, and probably, not even in my lifetime, will it become part of daily life, but the subtlety that SOMETHING is being done with it is enough for me to worry of what will happen in the future, regardless of whether or not it affects me as a person.

Offline Kay Alett

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Re: Scientists create artificial life.
« Reply #20 on: May 24, 2010, 10:12:39 pm »
I'm surprised any Furries would be against this. Imagine your perfect anthro love interest, designed on a computer to your specifications... and he or she is property!

Oooooo... maybe not so good.
Just give the Japanese a chance with this science and we'll start seeing some really freaky stuff. You think their robots are cool? Just wait till they can use this artifical life to create living skin to put over their robots.
That reminds me of something...

"The 600 series had rubber skin. We spotted them easy, but these are new. They look human... sweat, bad breath, everything. Very hard to spot."

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Offline J. March OHare

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Re: Scientists create artificial life.
« Reply #21 on: May 25, 2010, 01:42:46 am »
Kaloyan Alett: "You think their robots are cool? Just wait till they can use this artifical life to create living skin to put over their robots."

Why would they bother to put robotic skeletons underneath? Bone and guts are so much easier. Perhaps writing a genome the first time is a bit of a trick, but after that the critters can be reproduced with unskilled labor: their own, the same way we do it.

Imagine the "killer aps" of tomorrow. Once a certain level of sophistication is written into the gene sequencing programs, biological designers won't have to know how to write DNA code any more than a user of Dreamweaver has to be able to write HTML and CSS from scratch. You'll draw up your critter in a WYSIWYG, fill out a long list of blank fields, maybe write some script for the picky details. A program will translate it to genetic code, and a gene sequencer will spit it out.

I'm not sure lawmakers should've ever allowed living organisms to be patented, but that genie is already out of the bottle. Robots are expensive. Life forms are potentially dirt cheap: ask anyone who hires Third World labor.

It's gonna get weird.

Offline Avan

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Re: Scientists create artificial life.
« Reply #22 on: May 25, 2010, 09:12:19 am »
Why not just budding? MUCH faster than sexual reproduction, and asexual reproduction will keep the genetic code more stable, as a designed species isn't supposed to evolve.
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Offline J. March OHare

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Re: Scientists create artificial life.
« Reply #23 on: May 25, 2010, 10:41:31 am »
Avan: "Why not just budding?"

I'm sure all the first manmade lifeforms will reproduce asexually. This first was a bacterium. They'll probably tinker with bacteria for a long time. They can do a lot (and make a lot of money) just by turning them into little chemical factories, and bacteria aren't terribly controversial. I don't think PETA will be screaming "Cruelty to bacteria!"

Also, bacteria are relatively simple. This new organism only has around 1.1 million base pairs of genetic code; a human has about three billion, but they'll be moving on to multicellular organisms someday. You can bet on it. Three billion base pairs sounds rather daunting, but looked at another way it's only about three gig. We can manage it.

When it reaches that point, I'd be more concerned about the Blade Runner scenario than the Terminator one.

Offline Kay Alett

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Re: Scientists create artificial life.
« Reply #24 on: May 25, 2010, 12:24:36 pm »
I'm starting to see a strange pattern coming here.

God creates the universe, makes backteria, germs and single celled creatures, builds his way up to man who he imbues with vast knowledge.

Man uses his knowledge to study himself and all life around him, examines his structure and learns how to copy it. Learns how to re-write genetic code. writes new code for a bacteria essentially creating a new bacteria....

This would be better delivered by Jeff Goldblum.
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