There are varying opinions over whether the scientists at the J. Craig Venter Institute have actually created a new life form in the “synthetic cell” they announced Thursday. But there seems to be agreement that they’ve brought us closer to that point than ever before.
And much disagreement about whether that’s a good thing.
With nearly every scientific advance or new technology come trade-offs: Think of the various energy sources, genetically modified foods or even the Internet. In these cases and the others that come to mind immediately, I’d say the benefits far outweigh the negative consequences.
With this one, I’m not sure that kind of positive thinking will hold up. This could be a real-life Pandora’s box.
Some of the potential products of this breakthrough — the WSJ article linked above refers specifically to fuels and vaccines — sound promising enough. But we are no longer talking about tweaking existing life forms, in the way that genetic engineers might encode pest or drought resistance into corn. We are, now or perhaps in the near future, talking about creating something totally new, with traits we may or may not be able to predict or control.
It seems to me that the ceiling is much higher on this kind of science, if there is a ceiling at all, and that the floor, the potential negative consequences, may be likewise imperceptible. Once this starts, there truly may be no stopping it.
And that may finally mean bad which outweighs the good.
Please convince me that I’m wrong here.
P.S. — I’ll be away today visiting one of Georgia’s technological wonders, so keep it civil in my absence. Y’all know the rules.