November 21, 2007 at 6:46 am #8618
November 21, 2007 at 1:26 pm #78182
No way! It’s the beginning of a whole new world! Can you imagine what sort of crazy organisms we can construct? I’m thoroughly impressed by the minimal chromosome constructed by Venter, and look forward to seeing what new developments come out of this groundbreaking work.
As an aside, there’s a very interesting paper from George Church about constructing a cell from small molecules alone (purified proteins), could potentially have even bigger impact if it was actually acheived, although it looks like more than a decade to acheive at least.
Forster et. al. (2006) Towards Synthesis of a Minimal Cell. Molecular Systems Biology.
November 21, 2007 at 5:05 pm #78186
November 21, 2007 at 5:32 pm #78193
Maybe I’m paraniod but I have a feeling that artificial lifeforms are unlikely to do less good than harm. Our environment is already suffering enough because of man’s inanimate creations. I do not see how synthetic organisms can do anything to make the problem better.
November 21, 2007 at 6:29 pm #78200
the artificial life form is the beginnings of synthetic biology. You can see this organism as being the chassis of a car, then you can add engines which run on whatever fuel you have in mind, add tools to do tasks and add chemical signalling networks to control them.
November 21, 2007 at 6:37 pm #78202jereParticipantquote :
Well, the team started with a preexisting organism, so I’m less impressed after reading about that. It’s certainly amazing, but perhaps someone will have to explain the importance of this to me.
November 21, 2007 at 7:09 pm #78205
I understand your point, Mith, but I don’t think it’s quite the same. A car can do nothing unless a human controls it; an organism controls itself, and thus has much more potential to become dangerous. I honestly think this is playing with fire, dangerously toying with something that we do not understand.
November 21, 2007 at 7:21 pm #78209
You can program an array of failsafes into the micro-organism such as making it dependent on a certain chemical to survive or having a signalling network that can trigger apoptosis, but you’re correct in that there will eventually be a mutation which may be problematic.
November 21, 2007 at 7:24 pm #78211
I hate to sound apocalyptic, but if you’ve ever read Jurassic Park, it’s a good theoretical example of something that we think we can control suddenly becoming very dangerous. Life is the most powerful force this planet has ever known and I don’t think it should be toyed with like this.
November 21, 2007 at 9:08 pm #78229
This was my favorite remark below the article:
"History repeats itself.
This is exactly how Xenu and other alien overlords created humans. They just left us on earth while they went off to other planets way beyond our reach at the moment. Same thing will happen here. THe earth will be uninhabitable to people animals and then we’ll create a new species that can thrive in the new earth environment and leave them behind as we go out in search of a habitable planet. You’ve been warned hominids."
I love it. Is that something scientologists believe? It sounds vaguely familiar…
Anyhow, I’m with alex on this. The prospect is rather scary… and amazing at the same time. Yes discovering the "new world" was great for 15th century explorers but oops they spread diseases that killed off a huge portion of the indigenous people. Yes discovering nuclear physics has enabled us to enter a new realm of scientific discovery but the people living in Nagasaki or Hiroshima at the time probably didn’t appreciate it much.
The implications of being able to create artificial organisms are HUGE, as the article indicated, in both positive and negative directions. I guess I just feel that the possible negative may outweigh the possible positive.
Plus, you know the pharmaceuticals will just buy up the patents on the AOs and make us pay through the nose for whatever service they render.
November 21, 2007 at 10:36 pm #78236
I think that is a scientologist myth, the whole thing about Xenu.
I agree, Astus. Science should never be studied simply for its own sake, but with an eye towards the ethical good of the entire human population. You also raise a good point about pharmaceutical companies; I didn’t even begin to think about how they might screw everything up!
November 21, 2007 at 11:28 pm #78252
ALL HAIL XENU!!!
November 22, 2007 at 2:07 am #78263
Maybe we’ll make little organisms that can withstand Mars’ atmosphere and thrive on the planet somehow… and they can terraform it for us. Perhaps this is our key to populating the universe!
I think Xenu was onto something…
November 22, 2007 at 5:49 am #78274
Hm, maybe so. We’ll just have to make sure the organisms on Mars don’t evolve into something that will start a war against us.
November 22, 2007 at 7:52 pm #78316
Haha, i actually wrote another paragraph about that very possibility in my previous post, but scrapped it because it turned into a slightly snide jab at creationists.
Anyhow, in a slightly more realistic light, I think at this point our biggest fear of evolution’s force on these AOs is that they mutate (or are manipulated) into disease-causing super-bugs.
November 22, 2007 at 11:13 pm #78334tebufferParticipant
Change is the permanent thing in this world..
so, go to accept this…
November 22, 2007 at 11:15 pm #78337
These theoretical changes we’re worried about haven’t happened yet though. If you could stop a madman from opening fire on a crowd, would you just walk away instead?
November 23, 2007 at 5:23 am #78359
Yes change is a constant but that doesn’t mean that we should let anything happen simply for the sake of change.
November 23, 2007 at 7:11 am #78367
Dr. Venter sees this technology as a new possible source for fuel. Imagine not having to depend on oil. This could be a good thing. Here is a quote from an article I read.
"Venter hopes to be able to use the bacterium to manufacture hydrogen and biofuels, and also to absorb carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases."
November 23, 2007 at 7:30 am #78368
venter hopes to get rich, let’s not paint him too brightly.
November 23, 2007 at 2:33 pm #78376
Using bacteria to manufacture biofuels is not in theory a bad idea, as long we take the effort to make sure that the bacteria are not causing any more environment damage than would be caused by the use of oil, and as long as the biofuel can be sold at a low enough price to make it economical versus gasoline. Most people claim to care about the environment, but if they can still save money by burning gasoline, they will. E85, for example, is supposed to be great and wonerful for the environment, but it’s still cheaper to burn gasoline. Like Venter, most people only care about money.
November 23, 2007 at 4:05 pm #78380
Ethanol uses a disproportionate amount of water to produce and is a giant poke in the eye to third world countries with starving populations.
November 23, 2007 at 11:14 pm #78391
Ethanol also burns more oxygen per liter and thus produces significantly lower gas mileage than gasoline.
November 24, 2007 at 1:31 am #78399
I think a lot of people give Craig Venter a hard time, but I think he is dedicated to the interesting science, not necessarily the money making science.
I completely disagree with the idea on the previous page, that science should never be studied for its own sake… What should it be studied for then? Money? Fame? No, I think science is at its best when studied for discovery’s sake alone.
Also, to answer the question from jere on the previous page: Yes, the Venter acheivement doesn’t sound so great to begin with (they used pre-existing organisms). But, the two main breakthroughs are these:
1. Transplantation of a chromosome, removing the chromosome of one bacterial cell and replacing it with another (first performed with two mycobacterium species).
2. The successful construction of a minimal genome. The synthetic part of the organism created by Venter is the chromosome, which was constructed by Venter to simply encode only the genes necessary for life.
Am I using the term chromosome correctly here? I’ve had a couple drinks and can’t remember…
November 24, 2007 at 1:37 am #78400
I have my doubts about the bacteria thing
a) how fast could it be pumped out, and on what kind of scale?
b) what are the bacteria eating? How much water and other resources would go into the production of this fuel.
In other words, what’s the trade-off? Other than direct conversion or semi-direct conversion of solar power, every other energy source comes at a cost to existing environments.
As to corn being a poke in the eye, I think of it more as a big middle finger. The same concerns I expressed above apply to corn. What are the resources that go into not only growing the plants, but synthesizing the fertilizer and pesticides? There’s so many issues with corn agribusiness, it’s insane. Read The Omnivore’s Dillemma by Michael Pollan if you haven’t already. Good book.
November 24, 2007 at 3:01 am #78407
Astus raises some good points; just because something isn’t burning fossil fuels doesn’t automatically make it environmentally friendly. And in response to Wolleyy’s question about why should science be studied, I would say it should be studied in order to benefit humanity. Unless discovery is moderated by a desire to serve the ethical good of mankind, then it is like a wreckless child who’s just discovered the keys to his father’s gun cabinet.
November 24, 2007 at 6:37 am #78415
Ideally you would have GM grass or some other organism that uses very little minerals, fast growing and converts water/light to cellulose very fast. You buy the hay, then Venter wants to give you some bacteria that converts that to gas/ethanol. Personally, I see photoelectircs as more of a competitor than oil or ethanol. Couple that with megacapacitors and you pretty have all the energy you need(not to waste).
November 24, 2007 at 6:51 pm #78451
November 25, 2007 at 8:10 pm #78477
I agree with people’s fears about forming new life. Any new change should endure fear – that is a healthy response – which should lead us to make safeguards in our experimentations. But the history of life on this planet has been full of Natural disasters and elimination of species usually replaced by other species. Isn’t that how we got here in the first place?
So my question is: why are we more frightened of our intelligent experiments than we are of random Nature’s experiments? Is it to do with our vain self importance as a species that we must, at all costs, be protected? Or is it because there are 6.7 billion of us giving a greater chance that one of us might do something crazy, compared to Nature which we think works slowly (colliding asteroids)? What however is slow about the plague epidemics or about the next pandemic flu virus?
November 26, 2007 at 5:53 am #78487
Why am I afraid of our "intelligent" experiments? Because people are corrupt, and greedy, and evil, and stupid; yet we in our vanity dare to call ourselves intelligent.
November 26, 2007 at 7:30 am #78493
I agree that people are often corrupt, greedy and stupid but vain or not vain, most wold agree that we are the most intelligent life forms on the planet (at present).
Accepting all that you say and the dangers therefore of experimenting with life – is there not more chance of success when experiments are carried out by humans (whatever their weaknesses) than when experiments are being carried out by Nature all alone and in a random fashion?
November 26, 2007 at 3:07 pm #78507
I agree that discovery should be mediated, but I do not understand why everything has to be for mankind. We are only one of millions of species on this planet, and as the (to borrow a religious phrase) stewards of this planet, our focus should be on the good of everything on this planet, not just our own survival.
The funny thing is now, even people who only want to benefit humanity, must realise that looking after the planet (be it combatting climate change or boosting biodiversity (wow, check my unconscious alliteration!)) are the best directions to be going in.
November 26, 2007 at 5:24 pm #78514
Woolleyy, you should lookup Tom Regan and Peter Singer’s works on animal research ethics.
November 26, 2007 at 6:10 pm #78515
thanks Mith, will have a look out for them. I’m a little wary of "animal rights" folk though, there are some pretty crazy folks out there!
November 27, 2007 at 2:14 am #78541
I agree, Wolleyy, that those who seek to serve only humanity will find common goals with those who seek to serve the entire planet.
In response to Genovese, I would say that human experiments normally are safer than nature’s random experiments; however, in toying with a force as powerful as life itself, we must consider that human corruption will also make complete catastrophe much more likely than if nature were acting alone. In some ways it’s like letting a known thief into an unlocked bank vault after dark, and then expecting him to act responsibly.
My point is that discovery should never be undertaken purely for its own sake; it must be managed responsibly, with an eye towards the greater good of our species and our planet as a whole, and we must prepare ourselves for the good and bad consequences of both what our experiments produce and how people will use or abuse those experiments.
November 27, 2007 at 3:44 am #78553quote :
For the sake of science, what does that mean? Is not science the acquiring of knowledge? Since the dawn of time, humankind has sought for answers and explanations in order to understand the world. Who would be so bold as to judge what should, or should not be studied? Who is so enlightened that they may judge and regulate what research is done?
For the father of science Galilei Galileo who was put on trial for heresy when he suggested that Earth was not the center of the universe. Galileo was not put on trial, the quest for understanding and truth was put on trial, science was put on trial. The final ruling of the Catholic court silenced Galileo, but it did not silence the yearning, or the quest that mankind had for science.
To propose the regulation of research is a return to a time when mankind was just awakening from a long medieval sleep.
Who would be the manager of science? Who is so wise to decide what we study?
November 27, 2007 at 4:33 pm #78571
You make a good point, and I certainly don’t mean to stamp out our quest for knowledge altogether. I do, however, think we should exercise a great deal more caution when dealing with a force as powerful as life itself. We may, for example, want to get to a point where we understand genetics and mutation a lot better than we do now, so we can have a better idea of what may result and be better prepared to deal with any consequences. We might also want to keep a tight lid on how this new technology is used, in order to prevent any would-be madmen from turning this technology into a weapon of some sort. I’m certainly not trying to say that discovery is a bad thing, but you don’t give a kid a driver’s license without first teaching him how to drive.
November 27, 2007 at 7:09 pm #78579
One’s views on the attempts to create life must depend to some extent on one’s views about the planet, life and ourselves in particular.
We have already accepted that our planet is nothing special and is not at the centre of the universe as once thought. Most have accepted that we are not biologically exceptional and that the theory of evolution from a common ancestor is correct. Now we wait to find out if theories such as panspermia, if true, would indicate that life itself is not specific or special to our planet.
Some see life as very special and see the beautiful harmony existing in Nature all around as evidence of life being incompatible without there being a creator. It would be logical for such people to be against the very idea of mankind tinkering with life.
Others see Nature working in a random fashion, with less intelligence than my pet cat, in fact with zero intelligence and only able to produce its apparent marvels through the agency of a brutal, merciless dictator called Natural Selection. For these people, experimenting with life would not pose a great philosophical problem. Those doing the work would most definitely be aware however of the dangers involved.
So we are left with the fear of a science-fiction type catastrophe occurring where a creature is produced for which we have inadequate immunity. However since our immune system has always been able to adapt to new challenges, I find it difficult to believe that 6.7 billion people would be wiped from the face of the earth. Perhaps it could happen by uncontrolled global warming but unlikely with created new life. Our immune system has been here for an awful long time and has coped so far with all pandemics caused by foreign proteins.
And if some creature were to be produced that did remove all of mankind it is very unlikely that it would remove all species of life. Therefore stay cheerful – life will continue – maybe without homo sapiens; but on the greater scale of life and the cosmos – so what?
Remember the first atomic bomb and hydrogen bomb test? No one was 100% sure that a chain reaction wouldn’t engulf the whole planet. I think that test was a much more dangerous risk to have taken than tinkering with life which Nature is doing all the time.
OK, I’ve laid myself open to attack from all sides now so I’ll keep low for a while.
November 27, 2007 at 8:13 pm #78583
How can you be so sure that our immune systems would be able to handle a new threat? Our immune systems are effective against the pathogens that unintelligent natural selection has produced, but how do you know our bodies would be able to defend themselves against a pathogen created by an intelligent man? It would be almost too obvious that if anyone had such an idea, he would no doubt design it to get past the human body’s defenses.
Also, how can you speak of the potential deaths of millions with such contempt? If human life really means so little to you, then I would expect you to have committed suicide by now.
November 27, 2007 at 8:34 pm #78586
Because intelligent humans can only produce life using proteins. There are hundreds of thousands of different proteins and the immune system is there to decipher those possibilities and hasn’t yet failed. Of course we know of many other deadly chemical poisons which could destroy much of life, but they are not living entities in themselves, which is the subject under discussion.
I do not have contempt for any person’s life, on the contrary I would have thought from what I have said that it is Natural Selection that has contempt for life. I am looking at the broad picture as an observer. How many species still exist since the origin of life? How many have become extinct? What are the chances of Homo sapiens becoming extinct before our planet is vaporized by our dying sun?
I’m just asking questions which people probably don’t want to ask.
November 27, 2007 at 9:55 pm #78589
Hmm, let’s see. The Earth is said to be some 4.5 billion years old. The Cambrian explosion occured some 540 mya, and a mass extinction of many of the Cambrian animals like the Trilobite occured during the permian which is about 240 mya, which is about 300 million years. The Dinosaurs lasted about 180 million years. Now insect have been around for a very long time, but we will discount them here. Taking the avg of the cambrian life forms and the dinosaurs, the life expectancy of a species is roughly 240 million years.
Now depending on which archeologist you talk to, mankind has been around from 100000 years to 2 million. Taking the greater number, mankind still has about 238 million years of existence. Since it is believed that the sun will last another 5 billion years, mankind will not see the death of the sun.
November 27, 2007 at 10:39 pm #78599
Will the people 3 millions years in the future still be considered "human"?
November 27, 2007 at 11:10 pm #78604
doubt it! Although, I think there is a lot less evolution occuring in our society, people are now surviving, who in a natural selection scene would certainly not be counted among the "fit".
We need an ice age or something, kickstart evolution again! Roll on global warming!
November 27, 2007 at 11:19 pm #78607quote :
So that would make furry people with flippers. Maybe we would call them Flumans.
Man can’t belive I said that 🙄
November 28, 2007 at 4:44 am #78624
MichaelXY said "the life expectancy of a species is roughly 240 million years."
November 28, 2007 at 4:51 am #78626
Our species certainly doesn’t seem to obey the same rules as other organisms. We may last a longer or shorter time than other species. I think that if we can prevent killing ourselves, we will eventually colonize other star systems, and then be able to move to new habitats when old habitats die out. In theory, if we can develop space travel, our species can become immortal.
November 28, 2007 at 6:41 am #78628
Alex writes "…and then be able to move to new habitats when old habitats die out. In theory, if we can develop space travel, our species can become immortal."
By "old habitats dying out" I presume you are referring to homo sapiens invading and killing off life which happens to get in our way?
And by "become immortal" i think i can detect the selfish-gene at work!
November 28, 2007 at 7:09 am #78629
I do not think it is fair to presume to know what Alex means, and to put words in his virtual mouth.
November 28, 2007 at 4:02 pm #78644quote genovese:
No, I am referring to climate change and the like (the sun eventually dying out, for example) making a habitat inhospitable for our species. Unless we can come up with some kind of technology to either save the sun or make an otherwise barren habitat hospitable.
November 29, 2007 at 1:50 am #78678
I think the lifespan of species might have been a little overstated there. Perhaps you were referring to phyla… or dominant body-types or something. Still, point well taken… I think…
December 6, 2007 at 1:18 pm #79028mcarParticipant
surely artificial life–artificially made, won’t last.
December 6, 2007 at 6:12 pm #79070quote mcar:
We hope so but there’s really no way to be sure.
December 7, 2007 at 5:31 am #79112
Again, it’s artificially "put together" kinda like Frankensteins monster, but it’s made from other organisms. We haven’t "created" an organism.
December 7, 2007 at 5:45 am #79119mcarParticipant
Sounds like reviving a zombie that will exterminate everything later… I used to watch one of its contemporaries. ^-^
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