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Biotech Science

US Scientist Creates Artificial Life 253 253

Joshocar writes "The sometimes-controversial US scientist Craig Venter has announced that he has created artificial life. Venter stated that it is 'a very important philosophical step in the history of our species ... We are going from reading our genetic code to the ability to write it. That gives us the hypothetical ability to do things never contemplated before.' In the lab, Venter was able to construct and write genetic code from laboratory chemicals. The next step is to insert this code into a cell, which has already been demonstrated in the past. This ability to write genetic code could result in new ways to combat global warming and new drugs, but it could also lead to new bio-weapons."
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US Scientist Creates Artificial Life

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  • by TheThiefMaster (992038) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @01:43PM (#20880771)
    ... saw that it was a "frist!" poster :(
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Craig Venter is playing God! How dare he?!

      Life can only be created by our Lord.

      This is worse than stem cell research!

      I'm calling George W. Bush about this tomorrow. Do you think the executive branch could put through to ban the creation of Life except by God? Those activist judges legislating form the bench might call it unconstitutional, but Justice Scalia has our back.

      Very Truely Yours,
      Bob Dole
      --
      Write in George W. Bush. Never switch presidents in a war!
  • Hello... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Chairboy (88841) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @01:45PM (#20880781) Homepage
    So what exactly does 'Hello world' look like in DNA?

    AGTCA
            TCGCT "WORLD"
    ?
    • Re:Hello... (Score:5, Funny)

      by MyLongNickName (822545) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @02:01PM (#20880913) Journal
      At least it is easier to read than Perl.
    • Re:Hello... (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 06, 2007 @02:06PM (#20880965)
      We have gone from fscanf() to fprintf(), so I guess it would look like:

      char str[] = "Hello World\n";
      FILE * out;
      if(out=fopen("/dev/chromosome", "w")) fprintf(out,str);


      Apparently it is up to the operating system implementation to provide real time conversions to DNA code bocks from the file stream.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by pla (258480)
        Apparently it is up to the operating system implementation to provide real time conversions to DNA code bocks from the file stream.

        Humorous or not, I consider this one of the most insightful comments I've read on Slashdot in quite a long time. If you hadn't posted as AC, I even have mod points at the moment, but, so it goes.

        Kudos!
    • Re:Hello... (Score:4, Funny)

      by TarPitt (217247) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @02:29PM (#20881147)
      I think that particular nucleic acid sequence translates to:

      "All your base are belong to us"
    • The boys are all ready
      They've laid out the plans
      They're setting the stage
      For the man-made man
      We've worked out the kinks
      In your DNA
      So sayonara, kid
      Have a nice day

      -Warren Zevon, "Sacrificial Lambs"
  • I for one would welcome our high speed lizard overlords.
  • by suv4x4 (956391) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @01:50PM (#20880827)
    We are going from reading our genetic code to the ability to write it. That gives us the hypothetical ability to do things never contemplated before.

    So ok, first 3 steps were:

    1. figure out there's such a thing as "genetic code"
    2. read genetic code
    3. write genetic code

    There are two more steps:

    4. write some genetic code that results in something sensible
    5. write some genetic code that results in something sensible, and that's useful for us

    Arguably steps 4 and 5 are the hardest possible steps for us to conquer :) At some point I suspect scientists will realize it's impossible to keep tinkering at things on the gene-by-gene level.

    We'll see "genetic frameworks" with reusable piece that have well known behavior, and genetical development kits that simulate assemblies' features and behavior much faster than doing full-blown atom-by-atom simulation.

    Genetical programming will be born :)

    But, oh damn, forget my wild dreams, back to Earth: let's make some drugs and bio-weapons!
    • Make Godzilla!
  • Grossly misleading (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 06, 2007 @01:51PM (#20880835)
    Venter was able to construct and write genetic code from laboratory chemicals. The next step is to insert this code into a cell, which has already been demonstrated in the past.

    None of the above is creating "artificial life". DNA is the life created by someone or something else. Inserting a DNA into a cell is not creating "artificial life". The cell is already a life -- it is the life created by someone or something else. He only modifies the life. He didn't create it.
    • Exactly my thoughts,

      Call me when they create the cell to which the artificially created DNA will be inserted to, from scratch.
      • by mc moss (1163007) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @02:00PM (#20880895)
        I think a bigger challenge for scientists is for them to insert their DNA into a cell naturally made by women
        • I have the impression that by now, most scientist find the "normal" breeding system way not challenging.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by ultranova (717540)

          I think a bigger challenge for scientists is for them to insert their DNA into a cell naturally made by women

          Well, just why do you think the scientists are so hell-bent on creating artificial life to their specifications, mechanical or biological ?

      • by suv4x4 (956391) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @02:05PM (#20880963)
        Call me when they create the cell to which the artificially created DNA will be inserted to, from scratch.

        You'll be waiting for this call forever. The structure even of a single cell is immensely complex. I mean, we share over 50% DNA with *plants*. Half of our DNA is just the "core OS" for running a live organism. It's not a small thing.

        Scientists won't start building cells from scratch, they'll just tweak existing ones more and more while they understand the exact mechanisms completely.

        You'll be long dead before we see fully artificial, rebuilt from scratch cells.

        I gotta ask you though. What % of code rewrite would you accept on an existing organism, before you call it artificial life.

        1%? That amount of changes could turn a monkey into man, or man into monkey.

        5%? They could start with a cat, and end with a dolphin.

        Name your numbers.
        • Not saying that modifying existing cells and DNA isn't useful (on the contrary).

          But you can't claim you've "Created Life" by modifying an existing instance.
          • by pla (258480) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @02:33PM (#20881173) Journal
            But you can't claim you've "Created Life" by modifying an existing instance.

            So did Netscape or the Mozilla Foundation "create" FireFox 2? ;-)



            I agree, we haven't reached the point where we can fairly call it "created life". But this one step, more than anything since Pasteur, represents a major step forward. The ability to invoke a breakpoint on a running cell, replace its code with a custom gene sequence, and continue execution, means we can now probe the rest of the cellular machinery with unprecedented efficiency.

            The GP's point aside, I think this one step means we'll see a fully artificial cell within a decade or two - Certainly within our lifetimes... Presuming, of course, that the military doesn't create and release (accidentally or deliberately doesn't matter) the "perfect bug" before then.
          • by SpinyNorman (33776) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @02:37PM (#20881217)
            Everybody gets hung up on "life" as if it's something so fundamental, but really it's by definition nothing more than a set of characteristics (ability to reproduce, etc, etc).

            Do you consider a virus to be alive? It's a borderline case, but some people at least would say yes.

            The Polio virus has already been synthesized from scratch from raw chemicals - feed chemicals into a machine and get a virus out the other end. No need to sprinkle any magic "life" pixie dust on it.
            • MRS GREN (Score:3, Informative)

              Anyone else remember sitting in high school bio and learning about MRS GREN (Movement; Respiration; Sensitivity; Growth; Reproduction; Excretion; Nutrition)? By this definition of life, a virus would not be considered.
              • Which one does it violate?

                And, if I made robots, capable of building copies of themselves, and of seeking out and absorbing energy from their surroundings, would that count as life? If yes, it doesn't sound that far off.
                • by teslar (706653)
                  Well, I think that the requirements listed by the GP are simply not adequate. This is no personal attack, I know these are thaught in school, it's just that life is an incredibly difficult thing to define and 6 (rather loosely defined) words simply won't do. As a simple example,if all the above are considered a requirement, a mule, which cannot reproduce, would by definition not be alive. Just look up life on wikipedia for a taster of how difficult it is to define.

                  Having said that, one of the reasons a viru
                • by arminw (717974)
                  .....And, if I made robots, capable of building copies of themselves....

                  Provided that the parts they used were never part of any other robot or machine. Any parts composed of anything more than some or all of the 92 or so elements could not be used. Life takes mostly carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, along with some of the others to build all organisms. Your robot would have to do the same or employ a hierarchy of robots that could do this. Also, if you believe in evolution, the application of external
            • by ultranova (717540)

              Everybody gets hung up on "life" as if it's something so fundamental, but really it's by definition nothing more than a set of characteristics (ability to reproduce, etc, etc).

              All fundamental particles are just a sets of characteristics. If it has certain characteristics, it's a photon, if another, it's a proton, yet another, it's an electron. The same is true of everything formed from them. You, for example, have a set of characteristics: your skin color, shape, hair color, eye color, tendency to post

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by arminw (717974)
              ....The Polio virus has already been synthesized from scratch from raw chemicals......

              That is pure, unadulterated BS, a bald faced lie. NOBODY has ever made even a virus from all non-living components. They have taken chemicals that originated from life and combined these to make other chemicals which some have called life. To truly make life, ALL parts thereof MUST come from chemicals that were never produced by anything that was previously alive.

              The definition of life is not clear cut. At minimum to be ca
        • by Cyberax (705495)
          Actually, I think that it will be possible in near future to create environment to 'bootstrap' protein synthesis from DNA without a living cell. That way we'll be able to truly create a new life from scratch.

          Actually, there's some work on artificial ribosomes. So it may happen even faster I think...
      • And if they created something like DNA, we'd hear that they didn't create the proteins from scratch. If they created proteins, we'd here that they didn't create the still more basic building blocks, down to matter itself. Then we'd hear that they didn't create the universe, or the physical constants by which existence is possible, or whatever. No, I'm not saying that he created artificial life. But I've heard the "and God said, 'get your own dirt'" joke before, and as funny as it was at the time, I don'
    • Indeed it's a fork :)

      And it has good potential for harm. But that is true for any new tech and it's always been this way.

      Anyway the more we advance in this field, the more apparent will be the abyss that separates us from $DEITY's realm. Virtual artificial life, where somebody devises a set of rules for a virtual world that ends up with entities of such world being self-aware (for some definitions of awareness), would be quite more useful from a philosophical POV than these experiments, but this might help
    • by HexaByte (817350)
      So here's the obligatory: Scientist to God, "We can now create life, we no longer need you!"

      God: "Okay, lets have a contest."

      Scientist reaches for some dirt... God: "Oh No! You go make your own dirt!"

      Replicating a complex acid (the A in DNA) is NOT creating life.

  • This is a highly philosphical topic. While I am not a creationalist, being able to biochemically construct a DNA pattern isn't what I'd really call life. If he can build an amoeba 100% from raw material, then that is pretty close. Looks like they're at the beginning stages though, so the field is definitely alive. :)
    • being able to biochemically construct a DNA pattern isn't what I'd really call life

      There's an interesting perspective that cells, collecting into complex organisms, with strength, agility and intelligence, are nothing more than DNA's way to improve its own chances of reproducing.
    • by arminw (717974)
      ......Looks like they're at the beginning stages though.......

      Actually, nobody is anywhere near making even a moderately complex protein, let alone a living cell, from totally non-living material. We can take complex molecules, produced by something that was at one point alive and assemble these into other compounds. So far, life only comes from life. Nobody has ever even come remotely close to demonstrating otherwise.
  • not quite .... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Kristoph (242780) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @01:53PM (#20880855)
    1) He has not announced this. He is expected to annouce it. It's not actually been done yet, according to the article, although Venter is '100% confident'.

    2) It was not him but his team.

    3) His team has not actually created the life form in question, it's just a stripped down copy of an existing life form.

    4) His team has only made a copy of the chromosome, the other parts of cellular machinary come from an existing organism.

    So the summary should read ...

    Craig Venter is expected to announce that his team has created an artificial copy of a bacterium chomosome. The arficial chromosome, if all goes well, will be installed in a cell, and will take over its machinery, and effectivelly begin living.

    ]{
    • This guy actually knows what he's talking about.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Yes, I would agree. Typical grandstanding by this fellow. Had to pry the genome from his greedy hands when he was trying to privatize/monetize human genes, etc.

      The man is a prima donna, prone to exaggerate, self-serving in every way.

      And yes, he has merely created some DNA. Routinely done using PCR, etc. He has simply reversed reading techniques to writing techniques. And as pointed out by other posters, he has commandeered the machinery of other cells.

      In summary, this is a long, long way from 'creating
    • I read it as:

      The arficial chromosome, if all goes well, will be installed in a cell, and will take over their machinery, and all living things.

      But I like it better this way B-)
    • by Pooua (265915)
      So the summary should read ...

      Craig Venter is expected to announce that his team has created an artificial copy of a bacterium chomosome. The arficial chromosome, if all goes well, will be installed in a cell, and will take over its machinery, and effectivelly begin living.


      Men's Health carried an article earlier this afternoon (but I don't see it now on Google News, where I first found it) that states:

      Despite the reports, a spokeswoman for the offices where Venter works states that the Guardian Unlimited "
  • by janrinok (846318) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @01:55PM (#20880865)

    "....but it could also lead to new bio-weapons."

    What a pity that one of the first things that we think of when making such a step forward is 'How can we use this to kill our fellow man?'. OK, so global warming and new drugs are also in there, but which one would you bet on will receive the big government funding?

    • What a pity that one of the first things that we think of when making such a step forward is 'How can we use this to kill our fellow man?'.

      Science and Warfare have gone hand in hand since the beginnings of technology. An advance in technology almost always translates into an advance in the ability to wage war. Those that are rich and powerful because of war (every government ever) know this and often give a lot of support and funding to science. DARPA is an easy example. As this relationship is very old
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ScentCone (795499)
      What a pity that one of the first things that we think of when making such a step forward is 'How can we use this to kill our fellow man?'.

      No, I think it goes more like this: "Wow, this has a lot of potential. We can use it for all sorts of things. It's also possible that someone who wants to indiscriminently kill lots of people or hurry along some pet apocalypse might want to use this as a weapon, too, so we'd better understand what it means to approach it that way, the better to be prepared for evidenc
    • by ultranova (717540)

      What a pity that one of the first things that we think of when making such a step forward is 'How can we use this to kill our fellow man?'

      You have it backward. The first thought is: How can my fellow man use this to kill me ?

      As well as it should, considering the history of human race...

  • fork! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Kristoph (242780) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @01:57PM (#20880879)
    So this is open source at it's best ...
    He took the source for a bacterium, he forked it, and made a newer, cleaner version. He is about to start testing. His version does not yet actually do anything, but if all goes well it will be a great foundation for new and usefull stuff.
    ]{
    • So this is open source at it's best ... He took the source for a bacterium, he forked it, and made a newer, cleaner version. He is about to start testing. His version does not yet actually do anything, but if all goes well it will be a great foundation for new and usefull stuff.

      Presumably this new Generated Pseudo-Life (GP-L) will be viral in nature, seeking to beat down the monopoly stranglehold held by the entrenched biocommunity of today and replace it with something that, while having no market

  • Should we (as a species) have that ability? I suspect that now Craig "Pandora" Venter has opened this particular box, no end of troubles will come from it.
    • by BlueGecko (109058) <benjamin...pollack@@@gmail...com> on Saturday October 06, 2007 @02:50PM (#20881321) Homepage
      Every technology has both good and bad applications. Nuclear reactions can provide an almost limitless supply of energy, far beyond what we as a species need for the foreseeable future. It also lets us make massive atomic bombs, and even doomsday weapons that could wipe out all life on Earth. I think we've done a passable job using that technology thus far.

      What about electricity itself? Electricity gave us the electric chair and modern mechanized warfare, It also has given us massive advances in medicine and technology.

      This discovery will be no different. It furthers our understanding of our entire biology, getting us closer, inch-by-inch, to being able to cure all diseases, bring back extinct organisms, and likely usher in molecular computers and nano-machines that can self-replicate and help us fix the damage we've done to earth. I've no doubt it can also be used to kill all humans. I'm confident that we as a species will have matured enough by the time this technology becomes useful that our imminent demise won't be our top concern.
  • as long as Spielberg doesn't make a movie about it.
  • by Captain Vittles (1096015) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @02:02PM (#20880927)
    The summary's use of the term 'genetic code' actually plays down the enormity of what's written about in TFA. We've been able to assemble 'genetic code' for a long time now - designer oligomers are a very useful tool for researchers, especially with regards to techniques like PCR, which requires a primer to really get started. The accomplishment written about in the article is that a chromosome was constructed. This isn't merely a snippet of code, but hundreds of genes (composed of hundreds of thousands of base pairs), arranged appropriately on the necessary protein structures. When the article says it was painstakingly assembled, I don't doubt it. That kind of synthesis is remarkably difficult, time-consuming and prone to error if careful attention isn't given to every detail.

    Also note that this isn't actually synthetic life, just a synthetic genome. The components which translate that genome into a functional organism (i.e. the cell and it's structures) were not created. But this is none the less a great leap forward, and I'm sure the resulting findings and work to come from this will unlock vast possibilities, as well as elucidate some currently unknown processes and problems in molecular biology.

    Speaking of possibilities, let's also try not to get too caught up in the nonsense here. This stuff about combating global warming and building drugs and/or bioweapons is just idle speculation, and could be applied to pretty much any kind of molecular biology research. This is just one step, albeit a big one, towards a possible larger goal.
    • So in other words, it's kind of like the iPhone being hacked so that anyone can write and run code? If God releases a firmware update, do NOT apply it!
    • by lbbros (900904) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @03:09PM (#20881517) Homepage
      Well, at least in the name, BACs (Bacterial Artificial Chromosome) and YACs (Yeast Artificial Chromosome) have been used for years. Granted, they're mostly used for cloning (IIRC), but by concept, they already exist.

      Has someone got a link to a more scientific-oriented explanation? Current details are a bit scarce to me.
  • Global Warming??? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 06, 2007 @02:03PM (#20880937)
    "This ability to write genetic code could result in new ways to combat global warming..."

    That's the kind of claim that tells me that he's fishing for funding, nothing more.

  • Super-Bacteria (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nymz (905908) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @02:08PM (#20880979) Journal

    FTA - Bacteria could be created, he speculates, that could help mop up excessive carbon dioxide
    Hmm, this reminds me of the all too common science-fiction storyline of the perfect plan going to hell. I doubt other bacteria, grass, trees, flowers, and plants consider the current levels of carbon dioxide to be 'excessive'. And if this super-bacteria does such a good job, that it starves out those other organisms for food, then there could be some serious global problems.

    Bah, why am I so worried, I'm sure they will keep it safely contained like they have for rice [washingtonpost.com]
  • by semiotec (948062) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @02:08PM (#20880991)
    with the writing of this post!

    From just a fast read of the article, I think the claim "creating" a new life is a bit exaggerated.

    It's pared down from the genome of a pre-existing species and probably permuted the organisation of the genes on the chromosomes, therefore not much "creation" was involved, they just figured out what genes are not essentially for cell/organism viability and removed them. Granted, a LOT of work had to have been done to stitch together the final artificial chromosome, but still, I think it would be more correct to say it's an artificially _modified_ chromosome rather than created.

    Gene therapy labs often play with the HIV virus, by taking out the nasty bits and put in replacement genes, to study whether it is an effective delivery system.

    Scientists have difficulty predicting function and structure of known/natural proteins/genes, let alone making new ones. However, gene modification is very common, for example, GFP (green fluorescent protein) is commonly modified to fluoresce other colours. And genome paring is also pretty common, there was a group that removed 5 MB (megabases) from mouse genome and the mice still looked and behaved normally _in_the_lab_, can you claim that they were a new species of mouse?

    Last I heard, the Mayo lab (http://www.mayo.caltech.edu/research.html) has created a completely novel gene which produced a protein that folded as they predicted it would. I haven't followed up on the progress since then.

    Sure, it took tremendously amount of effort, but it's still exaggeration. An example, perhaps a bit unfair, but it's like saying people who pared down Windows installations by removing non-essential files are "creating" new operating systems.
    • I think it would be more correct to say it's an artificially _modified_ chromosome rather than created.

      In terms of the design that's true - he cut bits out rather than designed new bits (that will come next).

      But in terms of building it, it seems it's accurate to say he created it, and certainly that it's artificial. The article says he built the DNA "from laboratory chemicals" which I assume means it was synthesized (not the first to do it - the polio virus has already been synthesized from raw chemicals) r
      • by Pooua (265915)
        The article says he built the DNA "from laboratory chemicals" which I assume means it was synthesized

        Yeah, the few articles that were on Google News when I read about this earlier this afternoon were a bit vague on exactly what role those laboratory chemicals played. The statements do not exclude the possibility that the chemicals were used merely to snip off the undesired code, reducing it to the few hundred bases that will eventually be transferred to a bacterial cell.
    • by Kjella (173770)
      Ok, but if we can pull a life apart and piece it back together again, I'd say we've come a long way. Combine that with the evolutionary(!) design and you can really have something going. Start putting in and removing bits and pieces of code in big numbers, and we're well on the way to reverse engineering what all these bits do. I'd think the first step would be to strip away everything that's not essential, then starting to see how it fails. And I think artifical life doesn't have to be from scratch. If you
    • by arminw (717974)
      .....but it's like saying people who pared down Windows installations by removing non-essential files are "creating" new operating systems......

      No, it's like taking some Linux and Max OSX files and installing those in Windows. If done right, it might produce a Windows with some of the best characteristics of those OS. Immunity to worms and spyware might be one of these. However there may also be some other effects, such as certain applications crashing or doing strange things.
  • Playing God? (Score:2, Insightful)

    Craig Ventner, when asked about the risks of 'playing God' in the creation of a new form of microbial life responded
    "My colleague Hammie Smith likes to answer: 'We don't play.'"

    There's no denying the man has good ideas, and that this one has enormous potential. Unfortunately his egoism seemingly avaricious nature have put off many in the scientific community. Let's hope these factors don't slow this important development.
  • "a very important philosophical step" — anybody else wondering how this guy defines 'ethics' ?

    CC.
  • by Flying pig (925874) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @02:56PM (#20881383)
    Basically he is trying to demonstrate that you can write biological code onto a delivery vehicle and insert it into a functioning cell. It's the equivalent of writing the "Hello world" program from scratch and having it compile and run. It is intended to confirm what we already believe - i.e. that if you arrange DNA bases in the correct sequence, no additional magic is needed for a cell to decode it. So why do I find this annoying?

    I don't know if Venter made the overhyped claim but it will surely come back to bite science. Creationists and other voodoo merchants will surely seize on this as an example of scientists claiming far too much, and use it as ammunition to discredit science in the eyes of their followers (I started by typing "foolowers" but how many people nowadays know what it means when you write [stet] after a happy mistype?).

    Nobody can claim to create artificial life until there is a complete self-reproducing unit built from inorganic chemicals from the ground up. I don't know how long it will be before that happens, (diminishing resources may mean it never happens - we may have much more urgent tasks for scientists over the next 50 years or so.) but this isn't it. It looks like it is an important technical advance, but it is on a level with, say, the development of the CNC machine, and the claims in the media are about as accurate as if someone had written "With the development of the CNC workstation, we have created self-reproducing robots in the laboratory.

    • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@nOSpAm.netzero.net> on Saturday October 06, 2007 @03:20PM (#20881601) Homepage Journal
      I would have to agree with you on a general principle that A-life through biological means would mean using chemical processes like a biological laboratory or perhaps something akin to an oil refinery, and taking raw elements in the form of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen, and assembling those elements as a living thing that can self-replicate, given some basic nutrients.

      I have heard of an eventual goal of creating a completely artificial eukaryote by some bio-researchers. The idea here is to try and figure out what the absolute minimum requirements would be necessary in terms of a genetic sequence that would still allow for self-replication. Sort of a biological equivalent of a RISC processor or perhaps even something of a biological equivalent of the Brainf*** programming language. Such an organism would have profound implications and even value in terms of biological research, where you could test different genetic sequences in a simple but known environment that wouldn't be fighting with billions of years of genetic evolution. In "the wild", such a simple organism would also face incredible competition and would likely be killed by nearly everything it would encounter, so mad monsters from a lab experiment would not likely cause many problems... at least with the basic A-life eukaroyte.

      I agree that this is something that is decades away from being developed, but things such as writing a genetic sequence is certainly an important step to creating such living things.
      • I must say that I agree that this is an important advance, but that it is far from fully artificial life. The question remains as to whether the quote "I am creating artificial life" came as a direct quote or as the attention-grabbing headline that the reporter got from the interview (I haven't seen it as a direct quote yet, but correct me if I missed it). The importance of the advance is that the chromosome that was created will be taking control of the basic functions of the cell, which is much more ambit
    • by arminw (717974)
      .....Creationists and other voodoo merchants will surely seize on this as an example of scientists claiming far too much,.......

      More likely as an example of far too little. If scientists would succeed in making life from non-life, it would show that it takes a lot of thought, not some random processes over time. It would show that it took even more thought to invent life from scratch, rather than just figuring out how to copy that which already exists. It would greatly strengthen the theory of intelligent
  • Code kitty! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DrBuzzo (913503) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @02:57PM (#20881387) Homepage
    So basically he wrote a whole new chromosome... only... he did so by copy and past from a chromosome that already existed and worked... then just cut out the parts not wanted or needed and threw in a few other pieces of genetic code. None of this really implies that the scientist knows how the code works entirely, or that he came up with it on his own. In programming we have a term for this...
  • by Assassin bug (835070) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @03:08PM (#20881505) Journal
    He followed a template from Mycoplasma genitalium [wikipedia.org] . Venter calls his sexy little chimera Mycoplasma laboritorium. I, for one, feel suspicious about our new genital-disease-derived overlords.
  • Some comments above seem to either overestimate or underestimate the importance of what Venter is anticipating. Here is a computer-based analogy for what he is doing: it's equivalent to being able to boot to a new operating system of your choice.

    Some people under-estimate the potential significance by saying that we've been able to insert new genes in organisms for quite some time. That is true, but it misses the point, because for the first time the complete genome (operating system code) can be replaced

    • by arminw (717974)
      .....by modifying the software (genes) as opposed to the hardware.......

      Except that in living systems, the hardware is built by and depends on the software. It requires enzymes to construct DNA, which carries instruction code how to make enzymes. So which came first, the enzymes that make the code carrier DNA possible, or the DNA which carries the instructions for making enzymes?

      It's like building a computer that makes computers with disk drives. The computer itself has a disk drive that contains the instru
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 06, 2007 @03:29PM (#20881699)
    IT'S A GIANT PLASMID!!!
    WHERE ARE MY BIOCHEM GEEKS???
    They just stitched together a giant friggin plasmid, that's it.

    If they made a chromosome, great, that would be awesome because no one can do that yet, but it's a plasmid, sure, a fully working one, but still just a loop of DNA.

    They educated people writing these articles...
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ColdWetDog (752185)
      Well it's sort of a chromosome [google.com] by strict definition, but yeah, it's really a giant plasmid - without the complex protein related folding and suprastructre of a eukaryotic chromosome.

      It's also not really "artificial life" (as has been pointed out by many others).

      It is pure Venter - a good idea - more from an engineering standpoint than pure science, but important nonetheless, hyped to the max, poorly explained by a "journalist".

  • by Ingenium13 (162116) <ingenium@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Saturday October 06, 2007 @03:45PM (#20881821) Homepage
    While it would technically be considered a different species (though perhaps in the same genus as the parent species), I wouldn't consider it artificial life. All they did was repeatedly remove genes and see if the organism was viable. They still have no idea how most of the genes and regulation actually work. Simply modifying an organism doesn't constitute artificial life unless you consider dog breeds or other things we've created by breeding. By the same notion, it's not considered artificial life when a new custom chromosome (called a plasmid) is inserted into a bacteria or eukaryotic cell. It's done all the time and has been since the 80s. All they did was get rid of "extraneous" genes that they don't deem necessary. They're trying to make a designer organism to synthesize/produce compounds. This is one step in achieving that, though it was arguably unnecessary. The hard part is creating genes/proteins to make it do what you actually want. This involves creating a new biochemical pathway (or modifying an existing one), probably creating new enzymes to recognize your intermediates, designing ER and golgi receptors to recognize their finished product and target it for excretion from the cell, creating proper regulation of this pathway, etc, etc. As you can see, it's very complicated. No one has successfully created their own enzyme or protein yet, let alone an entire biochemical pathway of them.
  • My hats off to those /.'ers who came up with the "itslifejimbutnotasweknowit" tag :D
  • It's hard to visualize the interior of cells, because particles are smaller than light waves, it's all in a liquid medium, and everything is crowded. Scripps Institute researcher David Goodsell paints cell interiors in a sort of "two and half dimensional" view, showing the proteins and other macromolecules but leaving out water and small ions. You see a cross section plus a little more, and it is actually very helpful in terms of understanding how things fit together in a cell. The first painting here is E. [scripps.edu]
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Venter is a pretty smart guy. He knows how to stimulate public imagination and raise more capital for more adventures in his lab. By trimming the M. genitalium genome by 20%, has he "created life"? That's a very good question. How about your biomedical friend who knocked out a single yeast gene, thereby altering the expression profile of more than 50% of yeast genes in the new yeast strain (a common occurrence, I assure you). Has your friend created artifical life?

    If the announcement is in the form of
  • Cut to the chase and tell me how long until I can start splicing? There's nothing quite like a fist full of lightning.
  • by greyhueofdoubt (1159527) on Saturday October 06, 2007 @07:32PM (#20883503) Homepage Journal
    One day a group of scientists got together and decided that man had come a long way and no longer needed God. So they picked one scientist to go and tell Him that they were done with Him.

    The scientist walked up to God and said, "God, we've decided that we no longer need you. We're to the point that we can clone people and do many miraculous things, so why don't you just go on and get lost."

    God listened very patiently and kindly to the man and after the scientist was done talking, God said, "Very well, how about this, let's say we have a man making contest." To which the scientist replied, "OK, great!"

    But God added, "Now, we're going to do this just like I did back in the old days with Adam."

    The scientist said, "Sure, no problem" and bent down and grabbed himself a handful of dirt.

    God just looked at him and said, "No, no, no. You go get your own dirt!"
  • Suppose they eventually get to the point where creating and implanting customized genetic code is trivial. What's next? Creating code that will make the implanted cells start construction of totally new cells from scratch using loose chemicals available in the body already without the usual cell-division mechanism, and finish by delivering a viral payload of secondary genetic code? Will that satisfy the conditions of "creating" new life, or will it fail because we still used a middle-man for the constructio

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