What to make of new ‘artificial life’?

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.

34 comments Add your comment

Road Scholar

May 21st, 2010
7:16 am

Make sure you take MARTA!


May 21st, 2010
7:42 am

One Word: Kudzu

Horrible Horrace

May 21st, 2010
7:47 am

Kyle is being very trusting so lets NOT let him down.

The Anti-Wooten

May 21st, 2010
7:55 am

I’d have to agree with Kyle here. It’s possible that scientists could create something that eats us rather than the other way around. It’s a Cookbook!!


May 21st, 2010
8:04 am

Curiously, in a supposed anti-incumbent year, most of the departing are not retiring but seeking higher office. We may recycle more than we replace. The bad news is that a frustrating 114 seats still have but one contestant. Two of them aren’t even incumbents, meaning they will affect state policy without being vetted by voters. And I have to think that we’d be better off if many had run instead for the Legislature — and cut down on the number running unopposed. Georgia’s problems are numerous. They aren’t going away. There’s too much stale thinking at the Capitol, on both sides of the aisle. New voices would be welcome.


May 21st, 2010
8:04 am

And yet they can’t find a cure for cancer, odd.

Sci Fi D

May 21st, 2010
8:25 am

Most science fiction eventually becomes fact as evident from all the contributions of Star Trek on appliances that power our daily lives. I believe that people should not be worried about the technology itself, but the confluence of other complimentary studies. For example, the fact that anyone off the street can now map their own genome for a few grand. Or the fact that there are several dinosaurs, mammoths, and now neanderthaals that we’ve mapped genomes. And we’ve got cloning almost on auto-pilot. Stem cell research…..

No one seems to mind that lasik can be performed during your lunch break. That is a scientific advance. On the converse, some would say that if your vision goes bad that it was God’s will.

I am glad that this is an American doctor who performed this exercise. So many times we are forced to watch scientific advancements produced here in the United States actually pioneered and perfected in other countries because of our red tape government.

Again with the sci-fi reference, these advancements never seem to be dangerous until the military gets their hands on it.

I’m just sayin…..

Saul Good

May 21st, 2010
8:34 am

I thought “god” (or the American Talbangelical version anyway)…created all life. So I guess he created this as well. Will a new “book” need to be authored by humans (just like the last two were)?

Horrible Horrace

May 21st, 2010
9:05 am

Please PLEASE…While Kyle is away lettuce keep it civil and just so you know I am taking names.


May 21st, 2010
9:35 am

Well, if you can make synthetic cellular material, then just about any form of ‘life’ is possible, and even ‘anti-life’.
Mainly, this stuff can be used in short term for manufacture of artificial virus or more complex object components — for organ regeneration w/o stem cells since they could then be replicated syntheticaly; new complex life forms even androids; and maybe even replicators and transporters since synthetic copies of one’s DNA can be used to map cellular history.
But ldoes the creation of artificial life follow the laws of thermodynamics?


May 21st, 2010
9:44 am

The Anti-Wooten —
Yes, it is possible. Unhappily some of the first uses of these kinds of technology might be military, since we are always looking for new ways to kill people, devestate their environments and maim their children.


May 21st, 2010
9:51 am

Nice try scientists, only pedophiles in robes can answer this age-old question…

Horrible Horrace

May 21st, 2010
9:58 am

*On constant patrol*


May 21st, 2010
10:24 am

Scratch a “tea party boy” and see his true beliefs. After this guy in Kentucky spent most of the day after his nomination defending the right of private businesses that serve the public to exclude some of the public based on the color of their skin, this ole boy now has become the candidate of big oil, defending and praising BP!

In a year that republicans will most likely regain control of Congress, I never would have believed voters in Kentucky would have put that state’s senate seat in play by nominating this goof ball!


May 21st, 2010
10:40 am

Among the many things that the Ventner group’s achievement shows is that “life” is a purely chemical process which requires no gods whatsoever to work.

Elephant Whip

May 21st, 2010
10:49 am

If this is legit, bad things will come to pass. I can only imagine what a biological warfare scientist could do if s/he could figure out a way to tweek live biological weapon.

As for republicans regaining control next election, as the oil sweeps up on the gulf coast, “drill, baby, drill” will be echoing in everyone’s ears. This is like Katrina in slo-mo. And any republican who tries to blame this (or any other) administration is a double-hypocrite: “drill, baby, drill,” and “de-regulate, de-regulate,” aren’t those two republican mantras?


May 21st, 2010
11:19 am

Will shows us that the progressive left wing nuts are going to go after Rand Paul because he is a voice of reason, and heaven knows we don’t want reasonable people in Congress. This is what lefties do. make a big deal out of a done deal. Paul doesn’t want to repeal the Civil Rights Act. I mean if we want to go back in time, maybe we do need a birth certificate for the one who walks on water to the enthusiastic but highly uninformed liberal crowd.

Ron Mexico

May 21st, 2010
11:27 am

Like in Jurrasic Park, just because we could, doesn’t mean we should.


May 21st, 2010
11:59 am

As in everything in human life people will do what is best for them individually. This is the weakness of both political, economic & moral systems.

And this is why we have government, to control the selfish urges of the individual and of individuals when they band together to form a group.

The problem is not the science, but what “individuals” will do with the science.

The problem is not “capitalism” but what individuals will do with it.

The problem is not “democracy” but what individuals will do to it.


May 21st, 2010
12:25 pm

Because you have such an expansive background in science with your journalism career. So obviously we should trust your opinion. Yeah whatever.


May 21st, 2010
1:04 pm

Gretzky shoots, Jesus saves….


May 21st, 2010
1:06 pm

Dig a hole and stick your head in it, if you don’t want to see the world.

Kyle is watching

May 21st, 2010
1:13 pm

Im glad to see you all are on your best behavior. Im taking notes…


May 21st, 2010
1:20 pm


How far must one dig to see China?


May 21st, 2010
2:02 pm

So where did they get the “ingredients” to make this “new life” ? Did they make that out of nothing?

NO !

As God would say, “get your own dirt !”


May 21st, 2010
2:15 pm

You can bet the government will seek to regulate this!

…opens the way to the manipulation of life on a previously unattainable scale…

It could turn out to be some heavy competition for our political overlords.

Hillbilly Deluxe

May 21st, 2010
2:20 pm

As in everything in human life people will do what is best for them individually.

If that is true, why does the alcoholic keep drinking? Why does the drug addict keep taking drugs? Why does the compulsive gambler go on thinking he’s just one wager away from the big score? People often don’t do what is in their own best interest.


May 21st, 2010
2:25 pm

- To Anti-Wooten: Great “Twilight Zone” reference.
“To Serve Man” was one of my favorite episodes.

– To No. 7: Ditto for “Jurassic Park” which is even more
relevant to the topic.

Although I figured this would be possible someday, I’ll
reserve my opinion as to whether or not the artificial cell
is “life” – I don’t think science has fully determined what
“life” is, IMHO. It needs to be controlled similar to biological
weapons until we know more, in as stringent a way as

Off-topic: – I don’t know what “technological wonder” Kyle will
be visiting in GA, but here’s a small one (good for today
only, maybe) – it works and has the mid – level animation:



May 21st, 2010
2:56 pm

Is there some reason why you pick topics no one really cares too much about to comment on? I mean why aren’t you taking on Calderon and the President’s kiss up attitude toward that guy, or going to the defense of individual rights and responsibilities and things that we care about. Don’t you want us to read you and comment??


May 21st, 2010
3:19 pm

It is as it was…


May 21st, 2010
4:33 pm

who made god?

Jnan R. Saha

May 21st, 2010
5:57 pm

The entity that is described as God anywhere must be very dim witted. The way American Christian Evangelists and Conservatives describe make God very stupid entity. “God” talked to GWB, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart for what reason? God wanted six million dollars from Oral Roberts or else he would be called “Home”. His stupid followers gave that six million dollars and Orals children are living in luxury. Do I need to say any more?


May 21st, 2010
9:59 pm

it confuses me how an amazing scientific achievement can be viewed as a doomsday device by the under-educated. instead of taking your time to comment how the world is going to end, try doing some research and you’ll find that all of your fears are misplaced. i say this to the commentors and the author of this article.


May 24th, 2010
2:33 pm

victor – May 21 @ 9:59 pm

– Instead of throwing around insults, you need to learn a
thing or two about how to read information.

There isn’t a single article in this forum that mentions
“The End of the World”. All I see are a few comments
(including one I posted earlier) about the potential misuse
of this breakthrough as a biological weapon. That doesn’t
make someone “under-educated”.

Off topic: The link I posted to google.com no longer has
that “small wonder” app I mentioned.