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Biotech Science

A Step Closer to Creating Artificial Life 109

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the absolutely-glowing-with-happiness dept.
slick_shoes writes to mention that Italian researcher Giovanni Murtas has taken another step towards creating life in a test tube. "To the untrained eye, the tiny, misshapen, fatty blobs on Giovanni Murtas's microscope slide would not look very impressive. But when the Italian scientist saw their telltale green fluorescent glint he knew he had achieved something remarkable — and taken a vital step towards building a living organism from scratch. The green glow was proof that his fragile creations were capable of making their own proteins, a crucial ability of all living things and vital for carrying out all other aspects of life."
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A Step Closer to Creating Artificial Life

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  • by tjstork (137384) <todd,bandrowsky&gmail,com> on Saturday September 08, 2007 @07:45AM (#20519655) Homepage Journal
    I create artificial life with a 12 pack of Genny Cream Ales and a Dominos Pizza!
  • Yep. These are the kinds of things that inspire people to make movies.

    But wait, isn't this the same subject they use over and over... Scratch that.
  • by eclectro (227083) on Saturday September 08, 2007 @07:57AM (#20519705)

    The green glow was proof that his fragile creations were capable of making their own proteins
    Or that they were reading slashdot.
    • by DrYak (748999)

      making their own proteins

      reading slashdot.


      Just wait a few billion years, and they evolve to the point where they acquire an additional capability :
      - starting pointless holy wars about the subject whether they evolved spontaneously, where created by intelligent design or where by a giant flying spaghetti monster.
  • by TheBearBear (1103771) on Saturday September 08, 2007 @08:11AM (#20519755)
    The concept of matter ending up as human beings, and then being aware of its own existence, is mind blowing! Is there a scientific definition for life? I don't mean the using energy and waste - has dna - reproduces - want to will to survive stuff. I hope you understand what I am trying to ask. Like a clump of matter one day, then aware of its own existence the next day, what a transition!!

    I've read that some say it just might be that it's all just a bunch of chemical/electrical interactions, but to get to the point where matter contemplates its own existence is just on a different level. So it's big bang heat explosion stars planets...then human beings (albeit much much later). Is that something you can say is a property of matter? That at some point it will know of its own existence?

    What's/where's the threshold between a blob of carbon+goo, and me? Or at least, are there any theories? Or is all of this stuff discussed only in the philosphical realm?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by m0ns00n (943739)
      Actually, an emerging thought is that consciousness is a property of matter, OR it is a symbiotic twin to matter: matter resonating with consciousness. At one point the resonating brings fruit in the form of memories and thoughts in a capable matter-structure. So in theory, if you manage to put material pieces together in a certain combination, it will end up being self-aware. Also; all matter becomes potentially conscious, and it also means that everything is one in a much more profound way. Now you might
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by nyekulturniy (413420)
        I have thought about this, and I wouldn't agree that consciousness is strictly a property of matter; if you have a sufficiently stable substrate with differences in energy potential, it is possible for an organized system to have quasi-nervous action, which leads to thought. (I was thinking of the nature of thought because I was answering my own hypothetical question, "How do angels or other immaterial creatures think?")

        Matter doesn't have consciousness unless it's organized into life, which in turn must h
        • For the love of god (no pun intended), somebody mod parent up! I've rarely seen this argument phrased quite so well.
        • by shaitand (626655)
          'There the question becomes interesting. Is organization inevitable? Or does it require a first impulse, a Prime Mover?'

          So far the evidence seems to indicate that organization is inevitable. This is observed in neural nets, birds flocking, bee hives, ant colonies, a handful of rat neurons tossed onto a sensor plate that in turn is connected to a flight simulator, etc. When you mix together a number of simple components that interact in a sufficient variety of ways their simple individual unorganized roles a
          • by hawkfish (8978)

            What puzzles me is whether these more intricate and complex interactions are really organization or whether organization does not exist and is a byproduct of what we define as intelligence. Humans look at themselves and the world around them and define it in terms of patterns. They label the patterns, discover how to create new patterns through the interaction of patterns. Patterns of matter, elements, forces, properties, what do all those words have in common? They are labels we have assigned to patterns.

            I

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              The purpose of science is to achieve scientific understanding, not to learn truth. This is good because it's difficult to rigorously identify truth outside of logic and mathematics--a consistent scientific understanding may not be provably true, but it is consistent with all of our experiences as of yet, and that's the best we can do for the external world. If we believe in the second law of thermodynamics and understand it accurately, our observations of the external world will make more sense, and be more
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by PitaBred (632671)

          Matter doesn't have consciousness unless it's organized into life, which in turn must have a nervous system.
          So, plants aren't "life"? Fungi? What about bacteria? None of those have nervous systems. Those of you "of faith" should consider informing yourselves before stating retarded pseudo-scientific bullshit. This shouldn't be "+5 Interesting", it should be "-1 Talking out of ass"
        • >Philosophy only gets us so far, as to either accept a First Mover or to deny all causality when a chain of thought >is extended long enough. I accept a First Mover, because I believe in causality. What caused the First Mover?
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          ... if you have a sufficiently stable substrate with differences in energy potential, it is possible for an organized system to have quasi-nervous action, which leads to thought. (I was thinking of the nature of thought because I was answering my own hypothetical question, "How do angels or other immaterial creatures think?")

          Meaningless. Energy is part of the materialist universe, and in any case the existence of immaterial substances has never been demonstrated--any speculation on the quasi-physical properties of immaterial substances is simply fiction spun out of whole cloth.

          Philosophy only gets us so far, as to either accept a First Mover or to deny all causality when a chain of thought is extended long enough. I accept a First Mover, because I believe in causality. (Note: this is not meant to be a rigorous analysis.)

          That's good, because there's no sufficiently rigorous analysis that would have gotten you to that conclusion. (Hint: what caused the prime mover?) The only thing I can suggest to you is a more thorough study of philosophy.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ockegheim (808089)

        Any universe in which particles appear at random and with a lot of time on its hands will eventually produce large numbers of Boltzmann Brains [wikipedia.org] (randomly appearing objects capable of observation). The observations that the universe's expansion is accelerating and that there may be no end of time allows this. This article [arxiv.org] states that if we (ie. evolved sentience) are typical observers then the universe is more likely than not to end within 19 billion years. This is a bit like the theory that if I am a typical

        • by TheLink (130905)
          First observation a Boltzmann brain makes: "I am"
          Second observation most might make (if they live long enough): "oh shit" :).

    • by BarneyL (578636) on Saturday September 08, 2007 @08:26AM (#20519829)

      What's/where's the threshold between a blob of carbon+goo, and me? Or at least, are there any theories? Or is all of this stuff discussed only in the philosphical realm?
      You are assuming that self awareness is an all or nothing situation.
      More realistically all living things could be placed on a scale with carbon and goo at the bottom end perhaps small mammals next, then moving up through apes to us.
      And of course finally to dolphins and the white mice who are secretly running the whole experiment.
    • People are made out of water, CO2, nitrogen and a dash of salt. Your computer, cell phone, etc are metal and sand. The magic isn't in the matter, it's the pattern it's been arranged in to.
      • As any chemist knows, the material dictates the pattern. Carbon is willing to do things that copper is not--and the "patterns" of life all exist on this level.
    • > Or at least, are there any theories?

      Ummmm "...for dust you are and to dust you will return" kinda says the experiment can succeed. We just need to know if the "breath of life" is built-in or requires a syscall by root.

      [Hey you didn't specify SCIENTIFIC theories :P]

    • This is definitely he realm of philosophy: specifically, philosophy of the mind. You are describing, indirectly, I think, the mind-body problem. (You also raised some other issues, but I think that this is the most basic of them). Science will never have an explanation for things such as sensations: pain, taste, smell, etc; naturalistic science is limited to immediately observable things. Because of this, science may observe that, for example, when humans feel X, nerves Y fire. However, since, by defin
      • by DeadChobi (740395)
        Actually, once we figure out how to model objects the size of the human brain or larger in software on a quantum level you'll probably find that everything that we ever think or feel is due to chaos in that system. When we can mathematically model the system with a system of equations then it becomes simple to understand how different phenomena arise as a result of different control parameters in the system. The really hard part is determining the control parameters and the state of the brain at the time th
        • I fail to see how a mathematical model is any more useful explaining phenomenal properties in sentient beings than any other, less complex method. The problem is not that we lack an explanation for phenomenal properties; the problem is more concerned with the fact that they exist at all and are unlike any other known phenomena. The fact that my hand jerks back when I touch a stove makes sense. The very real, yet intangible phenomenal property of the sensation of pain -- or that particular pain -- itself
    • You include 'has DNA' in the list of criteria for life specifically, I assume, to exclude alien lifeforms. Is this bigotry innate (and evolved!), or did you have an unfortunate childhood experience with some shales and a magnetic vortex based master intelligence?

      As to your question, if you put a learning and abstraction engine into an environment with multiple (near-)copies of itself and ask it to plan for the future, it's pretty clear that the useful (i.e. adaptive) option among the possible outcomes is

    • by ajs (35943) <ajs AT ajs DOT com> on Saturday September 08, 2007 @12:12PM (#20521215) Homepage Journal

      The concept of matter ending up as human beings, and then being aware of its own existence, is mind blowing!
      Well, most of the matter that makes up human beings has no awareness whatsoever. Only those portions that take part in the higher-order neurological functions are part of that process. Your fingernails are not aware, which is why you feel no sympathy for those parts of your body when you mercilessly cut them off and throw them away, unceremoniously in the trash. Awareness is a feedback loop which exists in anything with a spinal cord. This feedback loop is increasingly complex in more evolved species, culminating in... man? Perhaps. Perhaps marine mammals have a more complex awareness. We're not sure. Certainly we combine awareness and a drive to manipulate our environment to an extent which is unrivaled.

      Is there a scientific definition for life? I don't mean the using energy and waste - has dna - reproduces - want to will to survive stuff.
      You're confused. That's life. You're looking for a definition of intelligence, and frankly, no. There's no universally agreed upon definition of intelligence. Part of the problem is that we have only one example of what we consider to be "an intelligent species," and it's that species that is trying to produce the definition. Does the spectrum of intelligence continue past our point of development? Would a more intelligent species have a very different definition? Do we process information in ways that make it impossible to objectively define intelligence? We don't know.

      Like a clump of matter one day, then aware of its own existence the next day, what a transition!!
      This is a gross oversimplification, on par with "a trickle of water one day, and the grand canyon the next day, what a transition!!" No, it took *billions* of years to reach the stage of simple bacterial life forms on Earth. Just moving from ape-like creatures to humans as we see them today took over a million years (think of it as 50,000 repetitions of "great" before the phrase "grand monkey"). Now look back at Europe in the middle ages, just handfulls of generations ago when humans were about 80% of our current average height. Imagine the possible changes in humanity over 100-1000 times that span of time. Now, multiply that amount of change times 1,000-2,000 and you have roughly the period that it took life on Earth to evolve from microbes. This is not "matter one day, then aware of its own existence the next day." Even when measured against the development of the entire universe, this is a very substantial period of time. Think about that. Galaxies formed in about the time than it took Earth to go from lifeless rock to our home.

      • by renoX (11677)
        >>Now look back at Europe in the middle ages, just handfulls of generations ago when humans were about 80% of our current average height.

        Uh? It seems as if you're suggesting that these guys were different from us, only the living conditions (and the lack of medical knowledge) made them smaller for example, otherwise they were 100% identical to us.
        • by ajs (35943)

          >>Now look back at Europe in the middle ages, just handfulls of generations ago when humans were about 80% of our current average height.

          Uh? It seems as if you're suggesting that these guys were different from us, only the living conditions (and the lack of medical knowledge) made them smaller for example, otherwise they were 100% identical to us.

          This is a very fine line to cut. Height is not a well understood factor in human genetic drift over the last millennium. Certainly some groups of humans have varied in height dramatically over the past thousand years, both becoming taller and shorter. See Men From Early Middle Ages Were Nearly As Tall As Modern People [osu.edu]. Each generation applies unique pressures to its populations, and it would take many generations of a consistent pressure (or a species-threatening event) to permanently alter the genetic mak

      • by protonman (411526)

        Well, most of the matter that makes up human beings has no awareness whatsoever. Only those portions that take part in the higher-order neurological functions are part of that process.
        My neurons are not self-aware. They supposedly play a role in creating my self-awareness, but the same goes for my hands, my vocal cords, and arguably every other body part that I am aware of.

        • by ajs (35943)

          Well, most of the matter that makes up human beings has no awareness whatsoever. Only those portions that take part in the higher-order neurological functions are part of that process.

          My neurons are not self-aware. They supposedly play a role in creating my self-awareness, but the same goes for my hands, my vocal cords, and arguably every other body part that I am aware of.

          Awareness is a process, not a thing that you can point at. It's the process of re-interpreting the prior interpretation of stimulus. Self-evaluation if you will. The hands and vocal cords have no part in this. They merely provide stimulus and receive directives. Now, in a general sense they are part of the process, but the actual process of awareness happens in the nervous system alone. It's not even a terribly complex process, as evidenced by the fact that brains which have been almost entirely destroyed

          • by protonman (411526)

            Now, in a general sense they are part of the process
            Just what I was saying.

            your neurons, taken as a whole, however, are quite self-aware
            They are not, not even 'taken as a whole' (whatever that might be). I am self aware. Furthermore, I am not my neurons (as is evidenced by your example of brain damage).

            It is a category mistake to suggest otherwise.
    • by Yvanhoe (564877)

      What's/where's the threshold between a blob of carbon+goo, and me? Or at least, are there any theories? Or is all of this stuff discussed only in the philosphical realm?

      Consciousness doesn't seem to be a magical property of a carbon blob but simply the ability for something to treat concept including its own self.
      There are thousands of theories and definitions for life or consciousness. Some argue that a mug with "I AM A MUG" written on it is self-conscious, some say that the ego is just an elaborate illusion, some say the brain uses some spooky quantum stuff.
      I, for one, believe that we are living the beginning of a new Scientific Revolution. Most people see the brain

    • by Siffy (929793)

      Is there a scientific definition for life? I don't mean the using energy and waste - has dna - reproduces - want to will to survive stuff.

      The ability of organic material to move, reproduce, utilize energy, do work, grow and die
      That is a scientific definition of life. You may be wanting a more full definition for sentience than tfd or dictionary.com provides. One is a biological question, the other is a philosophical.
    • by bandmassa (951387)
      TheBearBear writes... "Is that something you can say is a property of matter? That at some point it will know of its own existence? What's/where's the threshold between a blob of carbon+goo, and me? Or at least, are there any theories? Or is all of this stuff discussed only in the philosphical realm?"

      Q: Does a cat have Buddha Nature?

      A: Mu.
  • by starseeker (141897) on Saturday September 08, 2007 @08:14AM (#20519765) Homepage
    For those who want more meat, these look like places to start:

    Pier Luigi Luisi, Francesca Ferri and Pasquale Stano Approaches to semi-synthetic minimal cells: a review
    http://www.springerlink.com/content/y218jk71n1k407 85/ [springerlink.com]

    Giovanni Murtas Question 7: Construction of a Semi-Synthetic Minimal Cell: A Model for Early Living Cells
    http://www.springerlink.com/content/9p404l8247968n 72/ [springerlink.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward
    welcome our green blob overlords
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Not without opposable thumbs they don't :)
    • by ggvaidya (747058)
      Please, they only just started synthesizing proteins.

      Until they go multicellular, they still get to be our green blob underlings.

      (or would that be "green blog minions"? I can just see it now: "Now, my pretties! More beta-globulin! MORE BETA-GLOBULIN!! BWAHAHAHAHAHA!")
  • by fishthegeek (943099) on Saturday September 08, 2007 @08:46AM (#20519933) Journal
    It all seems fine and well, what with creating life artificially but, speaking for all the red blooded American, European, African, and Asian males in the world there is just no substitute for doing it the old fashioned way.

    At least that's what I hear.
  • Welcome (Score:1, Redundant)

    by tokki (604363)
    I, for one, welcome our new glowing overlords!
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Saturday September 08, 2007 @09:20AM (#20520127) Journal
    Mouse1: Hi Dormie, look! The life we created in this test tube is capable of making its own life!

    Mouse2: No Way! Get out of here! Lemme look! Darn it, looks like they have done it. What did you call them?

    Mouse1: Humans.

    Mouse2: What do we do now?

    Mouse1: First we need to redraw the plans for the highway, we can no longer run it through Earth. It would be unethical to destroy such an advanced form of life. I never thought they will survive this long though, truth be told.

  • fridge (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by SolusSD (680489)
    I'm pretty sure the 4 1/2 week old smart chicken in my friends fridge last night was evolving into some sort of lifeform. one with a bad bo problem.
  • Hrm... I knew they sort-of successfully cloned humans, but this is really the next step... I don't know what to think of it.. I mean, there is quite a lot on this planet already that we don't know a lot about. why create a new lifeform? ...probably because "it's possible"...
    • Hrm... I knew they sort-of successfully cloned humans, but this is really the next step... I don't know what to think of it.. I mean, there is quite a lot on this planet already that we don't know a lot about. why create a new lifeform? ...probably because "it's possible"...
      To prove that it is possible.
  • What does from scratch mean? Are they using existing cellular and biological materials (i.e. ones that are already partially "assembled")?
  • Know what they say....

    "In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe." ~ Carl Sagan
  • "In an interview with Newsweek magazine earlier this year, Dr Venter claimed that a fuel-producing microbe could become the first billion- or trillion-dollar organism. The institute has already patented a set of genes for creating such a stripped-down creature." A fantastic money making idea. However, do we really need an unlimited supply or carbon positive fossil fuels? I can just see the motorways jammed with Stretch Humvees of all shapes and sizes, gracefully spewing that grayish black smoke into our a
    • by Scarblac (122480)

      How would a fuel producing organism ever be carbon positive? Unless it does actual nuclear reactions (I think not), every C atom it excretes needs to come from its fuel.

    • Biofuels are not carbon-positive. To create fuel, the carbon has to be taken from somewhere. Why not the atmosphere? Voila, carbon-neutral we go.

      With cheap and plentiful fuel, why drive? Let's fly instead! Voila, who needs the roads?

      With good enough engines there is little to no problem with particulate emissions. Voila, here goes your smoke.

      We can rebuild the world. We have the technology.

  • FINALLY! nerds will have (cute) girlfriends!
  • If you attempt to build life from scratch, you must first create the universe.
  • green blobs create you!
  • From the oh-shit-i-misread dept.

    To the untrained eye, the tiny, misshapen, fatty boobs on Giovanni Murtas's chest would not look very impressive.
    Mmmmm... Smells like bad pun in here.

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