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Biotech Science

Biologist (Almost) Creates Artificial Life 539

Posted by Soulskill
from the almost-doesn't-count dept.
Aditya Malik writes "Wired has an interesting story up about how a lab led by Jack Szostak, a molecular biologist at Harvard Medical School, is building 'protocells' from artificial molecules which are very close to satisfying the conditions for being 'alive.' 'Szostak's protocells are built from fatty molecules that can trap bits of nucleic acids that contain the source code for replication. Combined with a process that harnesses external energy from the sun or chemical reactions, they could form a self-replicating, evolving system that satisfies the conditions of life, but isn't anything like life on earth now, but might represent life as it began or could exist elsewhere in the universe.' This obviously raises some questions about creationism, not to mention some scary bio-research-gone-wild scenarios."
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Biologist (Almost) Creates Artificial Life

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  • is it grey, and is it gooey? in which case, it looks like the end of the world [wapedia.mobi] is nigh!
  • by NoobixCube (1133473) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @07:03PM (#24939201) Journal

    I know they aren't really Von Neuman machines, but that phrase always puts me in mind of a replicator apocalypse...

    • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @07:06PM (#24939247) Homepage Journal

      Why? You don't imagine that something as fragile and immature as this could actually compete outside the lab do you?

      Hell, take an existing microbe and remove the genes that regulate its pH level and it will kill itself in a few generations.

      It wasn't you who sent the death threats to the LHC physicists was it?

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        All organisms self replicate. Just because something is lab-made doesn't mean it would magically not be subject to evolutionary forces.

        I.E if these little fellas were to multiply explosively, there would be a resulting population explosions of protocell eating amoebas, and an amoeba eating shrimp, and a shrimp eating whale, and finally Norwegians.

        • Re:Self Replicating? (Score:5, Informative)

          by philspear (1142299) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @07:46PM (#24939727)

          All organisms self replicate. Just because something is lab-made doesn't mean it would magically not be subject to evolutionary forces.

          Having not been made by natural evolutionary forces, it's unlikely they would be fit to survive in any natural environment. These things have not been instilled with any defenses against things looking to eat them including bacteria. Didn't read the article, but I would guess they aren't capable of digesting molecules, they probably have to be presented with ready to go "nutrients" to replicate, move or do anything. You don't find that anywhere in the real world, in fact, as I recall you don't even find that in your bloodstream. ATP is what your molecules use for power, but you only get that once your cells import glucose and your mitochondria turn it into ATP.

          In other words, they have absolutely no way to eat anything they would need to survive.

          In evolutionary biology, a major cause of extinction, at least in theory, is called "changing rules." If you're an organism doing well, you're highly adapted to your environment and proliferate. Think of the dinosaurs, they ruled the earth, bigger was better. Mammals were barely hanging on for dear life, small, furry, warm blooded, nocturnal didn't make sense at the time. If the rules suddenly change though through environmental shift, you might not be fit for the new environment. The asteroid hits, an ice age happens, and suddenly cold-blooded huge lizards can't cut it and massively go extinct. The only reason reptiles remain today is that there was significant variation in that clade that allowed some of them to survive in the new game.

          These artificial bugs are barely managing to survive in an environment tailored to them, they can't replicate on their own. They also appear to have no variation. If they get out of their environment, they have no chance of survival. It's precisely because they're subject to evolutionary forces that they have no chance.

          • Re:Self Replicating? (Score:5, Informative)

            by SuperSlug (799739) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @08:44PM (#24940477)

            There is strong evidence that dinosaurs were in fact warm blooded and were not reptiles. Many actually lived in colder climates in the northern regions of the globe.

            • by zunicron (1344365) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @10:07PM (#24941379)
              Strong evidence? Jurassic Park doesn't count as evidence.
          • by Molochi (555357) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @12:03AM (#24942409)

            "Having not been made by natural evolutionary forces..."

            A dude in a lab is just as much a force of evolution and nature as a comet fueling a primorial soup or whatever you think triggered life on Earth. You don't GET to go outside the system. There is no unnatural .

            When the researcher adds the next improvement to these globs of goo that allows them to survive better they will have evolved inside the system of nature which includes the petri dish they may someday live in.

            And if it comes to pass that one day they evolve into a symbiotic arm for amputees or a blob that eats chicago, that will be natural as well.

            • by Urkki (668283) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @02:24AM (#24943377)

              You don't GET to go outside the system. There is no unnatural .

              One completely valid definition of "natural" is "not made/influenced by humans". That is in fact the most common meaning of the word "natural". Or to put it another way, if it is "made", it is not "natural". If it is "natural", it was "formed" or "evolved".

              Then of course "unnatural" has additional meaning, something like "extraordinary in a bad or sinister way". Like "unnatural weather".

              I'm sorry (well, not really), but you have no authority to decide what words mean...

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by NoobixCube (1133473)

        There's no telling what effect anything can have on an ecosystem until it's released into the wild. If it's completely unlike any currently existing life, then the life forms on a similar scale to it probably wouldn't understand it sufficiently to know how to interact with it (i.e, simple questions that don't require a great deal of sentience like 'is it predator or prey?' or 'is it a viable food source?'). I'm not a biologist, so maybe I'm not making a lick of sense, but how do you cram something totall

        • by QuantumG (50515) * <qg@biodome.org> on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @07:56PM (#24939837) Homepage Journal

          Oh dear. It's a fat lipid with some RNA in it, not a magic eight ball. It's trivial to see exactly what would happen if this stuff was released into the environment: extinction, and likely in seconds. To work on this stuff they have to build huge clean rooms for precisely this reason.

          My grasp of physics is much better than my limited knowledge of biology.

          And yet you feel the need to open your mouth and proclaim doom.

        • not quite there (Score:3, Informative)

          by globaljustin (574257)

          These guys aren't anywhere near making anything as complex as actual biological life. What they're doing is more like biological engineering than biology. TFA reports they are close to making a very simple self-replicating system...

          it's important to note that this thing they haven't made yet wouldn't be able to self-replicate without 'help' from the researchers once they actually DO make it. Of course, down the road they would like to get something that could be autonomous, but even then it wouldn't be able

    • Well, this [xkcd.net] always helps me feel better at dying at their hands. But you're right, its not a question of if, but rather when. But at the end of the world, I'll feel fine. To everything a time. Everything that has a beginning has an end.
    • by pitchpipe (708843) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @08:52PM (#24940581)
      Speaking of self replicating, I had sex last night with a supermodel (almost). Well, I guess that depends on what is meant by almost. Also, the definition of supermodel might be relevant here 8^)
  • They might be changed into something that could terraform Earth 2.0 ?

    Lifeforms here on Earth are unlikely to be suitable for such. This could be quite interesting actually IMO.

  • by thefolkmetal (970306) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @07:07PM (#24939263)
    That seems slightly ironic in this particular case, simply because these protocells were "created" by this Jack fellow. I don't believe in Jack.
  • by not already in use (972294) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @07:08PM (#24939277)

    He tried to create a phallic looking creature.

  • by Itninja (937614) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @07:08PM (#24939279) Homepage

    This obviously raises some questions about creationism..

    Since the scientist did the (almost) creating here, what questions would this raise? Now if the (almost) alive protocells had popped into existence by random chance and from a void of nothingness, that would raise some uncomfortable questions.

    • Um, absolutely none. If he managed to create the actual organic molecules, the atoms in those molecules, the quarks, (presumably) the strings, and the fundamental forces governing those physical objects, then there would be some uncomfortable questions. But I'm not holding my breath for that day.
      • by naoursla (99850)

        It might raise some uncomfortable questions for creationists. There is little that science can do to shake the faith of those of us who believe in God and study science.

        Tricky, uncomfortable and assumption-challenging questions arising from science are to be considered a success. Again... very little to do with theology.

        • by sumdumass (711423)

          It might raise some uncomfortable questions for creationists. There is little that science can do to shake the faith of those of us who believe in God and study science.

          I don't think your getting the big picture. If someone is playing god by manipulating something, what does that say about life being created? Nothing... If it happened naturally, then that's a little different.

          If it makes creationist uncomfortable, it would be because someone is playing god and of the fear of what can happen. In other word

    • by Renraku (518261)

      Questions?

      How to make what he created better?
      How to make the technology viable to the military?
      How to make the technology profitable?

      The second part sounds a lot more like a function of quantum mechanics than it does religion. God wouldn't be so obvious if they were trying to remain incognito.

    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @07:27PM (#24939487) Homepage

      Since the scientist did the (almost) creating here, what questions would this raise? Now if the (almost) alive protocells had popped into existence by random chance and from a void of nothingness, that would raise some uncomfortable questions.

      Because it would show that life can be created from basic non-living components using simple chemical reactions, and that it didn't require some magical "zap" from heaven to do it? Yes, in this case it would be a scientist doing it intentionally, rather than it occurring by chance in the primordial soup, but it shows that in principle it is possible. At that point you would have a pretty solid theory of abiogenesis if you can show that earth had in the distant past these basic components and sufficient energy to cause the necessary reactions, and then just like with evolution you have millions of years and trillions of molecules to handle the "chance" part.

      • by Eil (82413) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @07:59PM (#24939875) Homepage Journal

        Because it would show that life can be created from basic non-living components using simple chemical reactions, and that it didn't require some magical "zap" from heaven to do it?

        I don't foresee this causing any problems because (to my knowledge) the bible says "God created life," not "Only God can create life."

        Of course, I've been wrong before.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Burning1 (204959)

        Yes, in this case it would be a scientist doing it intentionally, rather than it occurring by chance in the primordial soup, but it shows that in principle it is possible.

        I'm not a big fan of the "Chance" line of reasoning behind evolution. Much like the term "theory," it is very easily abused to confuse people.

        What is improbable on a small scale becomes almost inevitable when we look at the kind of time periods and the amount of opportunity available in 5 billion years. It's not unreasonable to believe that the formation of life on earth isn't only probable, but virtually assured.

        Here's a great example: It's improbable that either of us will die in a car accident. Possible,

    • by lawpoop (604919) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @07:37PM (#24939619) Homepage Journal
      I'll tell you what questions this "raises" -- but prepare to be dissapointed. I had a high-school science teacher, who was a great teacher, but was a creationist. Yes, he really was a great science teacher. He spent half a class one day explaining "questions"* about cosmology and creationism. He didn't proselytize, didn't say that he had the answers, or that the Bible did. He just asked some questions that got the students thinking. IMHO, I think that's good -- though questions early on are like inoculations of skepticism. And, there are good, scientific answers that sufficiently motivated students looked up ( this was before widespread internet)

      Anywho, one of the questions was something like "Suppose a scientist creates life from scratch in a test tube. Is that evidence of abiogenesis, or creationism?" One answer, that most scientifically minded people choose, is that the scientist isn't doing anything that couldn't have happened in nature without the scientist, so therefore it's evidence of abiogenesis. Other people, those more creation minded, say that an intelligent being, in this case a scientist, created life from raw materials, so therefore, its evidence that life is created by intelligence.

      Please, don't shoot, I'm just the messenger. You're asking what questions would be raised, I'm telling you the questions that people get out of this.

      * He also posed another question about radiometric dating of rocks that I never got a satisfactory answer for. For instance, say they date some rocks, and there is 0.03% lead to uranium, or some such ratio, and therefor the rock is X million years old. How do we know that when the rock was originally formed, it was 100% uranium in the sample that we are now taking from the rock? If a rock cools from molten lava, aren't active and decayed isotopes mixed together, thus throwing off the dating scales based on that ratio?
      • by jfengel (409917) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @07:46PM (#24939737) Homepage Journal

        The trick with uranium dating is that when zircon crystals form, uranium is trapped but lead is excluded. So you know that all of the lead was created AFTER the crystal formed.

        This is cross-checked against other forms of dating, too.

        The disappointing thing is that your science teacher was spreading doubt on the subject when the answers were out there to be found. When a vast number of scientists say it's true, "I don't think it's right" is not a valid answer unless you've got a PhD. He may not have been spreading religion, but he was spreading doubt about a well-founded science, as if the scientists themselves were ignorant of it. They are not, and it's extremely bad form to imply that they are.

        • by lawpoop (604919) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @08:02PM (#24939923) Homepage Journal
          Thanks for the answer. I'd always wondered about that one.

          The disappointing thing is that your science teacher was spreading doubt on the subject when the answers were out there to be found. When a vast number of scientists say it's true, "I don't think it's right" is not a valid answer unless you've got a PhD. He may not have been spreading religion, but he was spreading doubt about a well-founded science, as if the scientists themselves were ignorant of it. They are not, and it's extremely bad form to imply that they are.

          I'm a scientifically-minded skeptic, but I gotta say I disagree with you 100% here. I think that the essence of science is doubt, skepticism, and inquiry. These theories are not so fragile that we have to protect them with a shield of awe. If the science is well-founded, then it should be able to clear these hurdles easily. It should be able to withstand the most withering lines of inquiry -- And it does.

          If you teach kids to blindly accept what "the authorities" tell you, whether those authorities are the Bible, or well-respected grey-bearded scientists, then you will get adults who accept whatever the authorities tell them -- in other words, people who can't be scientists, because they don't know how to think for themselves, and therefore can't use the scientific method.

          When we teach science, we shouldn't say "Believe this because a bunch of scientists believe in it!". Instead, we should teach them to ask questions, develop a hypothesis, and think about ways to prove or disprove it. When they're old enough, they should be doing experiements. Think, ask questions, make observations, and do experiments to test your theories. That is science, not the consensus of elites.

          • by jfengel (409917) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @08:24PM (#24940247) Homepage Journal

            Skepticism is good and necessary, but it must be followed up by research. Saying that you don't know the answer is valid. Implying that scientists don't know, when they DO know and you don't, is not.

            You can encourage the kids to go double-check the answers, and then expand on them. I'm just concerned that his statement was taken as "Those scientists make a lot of statements that they can't back up," and that's wrong.

          • by quantaman (517394) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @10:20PM (#24941519)

            Thanks for the answer. I'd always wondered about that one.

            The disappointing thing is that your science teacher was spreading doubt on the subject when the answers were out there to be found. When a vast number of scientists say it's true, "I don't think it's right" is not a valid answer unless you've got a PhD. He may not have been spreading religion, but he was spreading doubt about a well-founded science, as if the scientists themselves were ignorant of it. They are not, and it's extremely bad form to imply that they are.

            I'm a scientifically-minded skeptic, but I gotta say I disagree with you 100% here. I think that the essence of science is doubt, skepticism, and inquiry. These theories are not so fragile that we have to protect them with a shield of awe. If the science is well-founded, then it should be able to clear these hurdles easily. It should be able to withstand the most withering lines of inquiry -- And it does.

            If you teach kids to blindly accept what "the authorities" tell you, whether those authorities are the Bible, or well-respected grey-bearded scientists, then you will get adults who accept whatever the authorities tell them -- in other words, people who can't be scientists, because they don't know how to think for themselves, and therefore can't use the scientific method.

            The theory could withstand those lines of inquiry if those students were given the theory. Instead they're given a tiny, perhaps broken, subset of the theory. Then they're told a larger, more elaborate crackpot theory and given "evidence" to support that theory.

            Perhaps they learn a tiny bit of critical thinking in discarding the "conventional" theory, but at the cost of incorrect knowledge. Even worse people have a very strong tendency to defend the first opinion we learn on a subject, chances are a lot of them are going to learn a good deal more about rationalizing their incorrect beliefs than skeptically discarding them and arriving at the correct ones.

            When we teach science, we shouldn't say "Believe this because a bunch of scientists believe in it!". Instead, we should teach them to ask questions, develop a hypothesis, and think about ways to prove or disprove it. When they're old enough, they should be doing experiements. Think, ask questions, make observations, and do experiments to test your theories. That is science, not the consensus of elites.

            True though at the end of the day it's also a good thing to realize that science is about evidence, and if a bunch of scientists believe a theory to be true I think that's pretty damn good evidence that it is true.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by lawpoop (604919)
              You're building a straw man argument.

              The theory could withstand those lines of inquiry if those students were given the theory. Instead they're given a tiny, perhaps broken, subset of the theory. Then they're told a larger, more elaborate crackpot theory and given "evidence" to support that theory.

              The students *were* given the theory. ( What theory are we taking about here, anyway? Big Bang? Evolution? We were taught all of that). We weren't told a larger crackpot theory. We were just given some questions that seemed not to make sense, like who do we know that the source of radioative dating material was all undecayed at the time of formation.

              Perhaps they learn a tiny bit of critical thinking in discarding the "conventional" theory,

              Perhaps!? We spend the whole friggin' semester on it!

              but at the cost of incorrect knowledge.

              If you think the scientific method gives incorrect knowledge, well..

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by drsmithy (35869)

        Anywho, one of the questions was something like "Suppose a scientist creates life from scratch in a test tube. Is that evidence of abiogenesis, or creationism?" One answer, that most scientifically minded people choose, is that the scientist isn't doing anything that couldn't have happened in nature without the scientist, so therefore it's evidence of abiogenesis. Other people, those more creation minded, say that an intelligent being, in this case a scientist, created life from raw materials, so therefore

    • by Greyfox (87712)
      One would be "What exactly can your God do that we can't?"

      We have harnessed lightning to do our will.
      We can inflict a plague upon our enemies.
      We can fly faster and farther than any bird.
      We can strike a man dead from a huge distance.
      We have unleashed the power of the sun, burning our enemies from the earth.

      Once we check "Create life" off our checklist, our resume will look pretty similar to His.

  • "This obviously raises some questions about creationism..."

    Such as?

    "Maybe there is no God? We were some experiment?"

    The fact that life may be "creatable" does NOT infer that WE were. At least not at the hands of "gods" or other lifeforms.

    • Actually, I believe that they were talking about how it might shake some creationist theories because so much religious belief is based on the idea that science can't explain and do everything. Showing that lifeforms can be created in the lab can lead to discoveries that show that life could be created through natural processes that existed in the primordial goo. In other words, this could be a fundamental step in showing how evolution could have happened.

      The fact that life may be "creatable" does NOT imply that WE were created

      There, fixed that for you. I guarantee that if scien

  • by jcwayne (995747) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @07:10PM (#24939307) Homepage

    That's the sound of 100,000 /.ers trying to come up with the perfect obscure movie reference. We'd better get out of here before it gets ugly.

    Too late...

  • I was just reading about this in The Living Cosmos by Chris Impey. Very good book btw, worth checking out from the library or even buying.

    I'm glad Szostak is doing this though, it starts to fill in the gab on how cellular life started.
  • Get your own dirt! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by umrguy76 (114837) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @07:21PM (#24939423) Homepage

    This reminds me of a joke:

    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!"

    • by Rie Beam (632299)

      So God's role has been relegated to making dirt?

      That's kinda boring.

    • by arevos (659374) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @08:23PM (#24940237) Homepage

      God just looked at him and said, "No, no, no. You go get your own dirt!"

      I find jokes like this interesting, because they demonstrate quite neatly humanity's obsession with modesty. Humans have relatively little power to alter their surroundings. We have hands and fingers that can manipulate small objects, but nothing much beyond that. We're a creature who's first resume could be summed up with "Skills: Can throw rocks" and "Hobbies: Enthusiastic hooting". We live short lives and die horribly easily. Compared to the vast energies of quasars, or the intricacies of quantum particles, we are powerless and clumsy creatures; small sacks of meat with little more natural skills than the ability to pick up small stones.

      But in a blink of the cosmic eye, our species has constructed, well, this. Technology of unfathomable intricacy, abilities far beyond the dreams of our forebears. When you consider what we started out with, and where we are now, and how much work goes into everything we take for granted, it's too much for a single mind to comprehend. But rather than reflect on our amazing achievements, we exhibit an enviable modesty, making jokes comparing these achievements to a hypothetical perfect being. We ever hold in our minds how far we have to go, almost never considering how far we have come.

      It's akin to leaving a child on a beach, and coming back an hour later to find he's accepting a Nobel Prize for the particle accelerator he build out of sand and seaweed. You might be amazed, but the child would merely shrug depreciatingly, and say something like "Well, it's not as good as the one at CERN."

      Conversely, our concept of God is a entity that is inherently incapable of performing impressive actions. He might make impressive things, or be impressive to behold, but because his power is, by definition, unlimited, there can be no effort, or possibility of failure involved in his manipulations of the Universe. God creating a human being is no more impressive than a human picking a pebble off a beach; both are inherent skills that require no effort or risk of failure. But for a human being to create life, for a being of our meager abilities to succeed in reproducing, even in part, the awesome forces of nature and the cosmos... now that's impressive.

      In summary, that joke makes God look like the asshole parents who try and win races against their 5 year old children. It's not a flattering image.

      • If god is omnipotent, then god should be able to make something he cannot understand.

        If god can, than god is not omniscient, because he would be able to understand it.

        The same can be said in reverse.

        Omnipotence and omniscience are mutually exclusive, thus a truly unlimited being is not possible.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Jason Levine (196982)

        In summary, that joke makes God look like the asshole parents who try and win races against their 5 year old children. It's not a flattering image.

        Hey, I try to win races against my 5 year old child all the time. I almost won the other day.

  • Combined with a process that harnesses external energy from the sun or chemical reactions, they could form a self-replicating...

    I'm no bioscientist, but could this project be modified to something which harvests energy from the sun and then can discharge it in a was in which electrical or bio-mechanical energy could be generated?

  • "This obviously raises some questions about creationism, not to mention some scary bio-research-gone-wild scenarios."

    For the sake of brevity, we will not, however, be listing these questions here.

  • by gregbot9000 (1293772) <mckinleg@csusb.edu> on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @07:32PM (#24939555) Journal

    Combined with a process that harnesses external energy from the sun or chemical reactions, they could form a self-replicating, evolving system

    It's called a Lava Lamp.

  • Umm. What? (Score:5, Funny)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @07:35PM (#24939595) Journal
    Why does this raise any questions about creationism? To the best of my knowledge, there are essentially no creationists who argue that life was created by humans or any other intelligent organisms(unless they are squirming around on the stand, trying to avoid the establishment clause). And nothing in any current evolutionary hypothesis precludes artificially constructed organisms any more than they preclude artificially constructed computers and hammers. The fact that we can, almost, produce simple organism analogs doesn't mean anything one way or the other, though I suspect that it will be a very convenient mechanism for exploring the capabilities of (relatively) low complexity structures, and will provide the opportunity to do evolutionary experiments from well defined baselines.

    As for the bioresearch gone wild scenarios: all advances in knowledge create the potential for trouble; but I suspect that it will be quite some time before any synthetic organism becomes much of a threat. The world outside is an incredible hostile place, crawling with microbes that have been slitting each others' throats in innumerable horrid ways for millennia. The interaction will be something like this:

    [Synthetic wimp organism]:"Hi, I'm synthetic."
    [Hardbitten wild bacterium]:"I fucking killed my own family over a nanogram of glucose."
    [SWO]:*gulp*
    [HWB]:"Hey, look, one of the thousands of antibiotic compounds secreted by fungi as part of the brutal chemical war of all against all."
    [SWO]:*Dies horribly*
  • by rdwald (831442) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @07:36PM (#24939609)

    Recall that bacteria have had around 4 billion years to turn Earth into a nanopocalyptic wasteland. Sure, they're everywhere, but they aren't dismantling everything else for parts. If this were a real risk, it would already have happened.

    • by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @09:05PM (#24940719)

      Recall that bacteria have had around 4 billion years to turn Earth into a nanopocalyptic wasteland.

      You mean like the Oxygen Catastrophe [wikipedia.org], where uncontrollably replicating microbiomachines saturated the atmosphere with a waste product so caustic that it rotted the very rocks out from under them?

  • As a biochemist I'm surprised with the 'almost alive' statement in the article: they're still a long way to go. However, the work they are doing is interesting and is proof-of-concept for many elements of the RNA-world theory. I, like others, am surprised by the 'questions about creationism'. This show improper bias where this article doesn't approach creationism, but rather supports the validity of the evolutionary origin theory. The author has assumed that origin is a zero-sum game, and this is flawed an
  • Whenever I start contemplating DNA (!), self-reproduction and the utter insanity of how complex the machinery of a single cell is, much less multicellular life, much less an animal, much less a self-aware brain, I just shake my head in wonder. There can only be one conclusion, really.

    No, not God, that's utterly absurd. No, the conclusion is that life is really, really, really, REALLY unlikely. That's the answer to the Fermi Paradox. We are utterly unique, and I suspect that intelligent life is so improbable

    • Whenever I start contemplating DNA (!), self-reproduction and the utter insanity of how complex the machinery of a single cell is, much less multicellular life, much less an animal, much less a self-aware brain, I just shake my head in wonder.

      Doesn't bother me. Evolution is a massively parallel computation and has been going on for a LONG time.

      If you skip DNA and just look at RNA it all gets easy:

      - RNA caries genetic information and can be copied by an appropriate enzyme. (It's less stable than DN

  • And I, for one, welcome our new artificial protocell overlords.
  • by Mesa MIke (1193721) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @12:58AM (#24942895) Homepage

    "As a Slashdot discussion on any scientific topic grows longer, the probability of it devolving into creationist-bashing fest approaches one."

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