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Biotech Science

Synthetic DNA About To Yield New Life Forms 240

mlimber sends along a Washington Post story about the immanence of completely artificial life: "The cobbling together of life from synthetic DNA, scientists and philosophers agree, will be a watershed event, blurring the line between biological and artificial — and forcing a rethinking of what it means for a thing to be alive... Some experts are worried that a few maverick companies are already gaining monopoly control over the core 'operating system' for artificial life and are poised to become the Microsofts of synthetic biology. That could stifle competition, they say, and place enormous power in a few people's hands."
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Synthetic DNA About To Yield New Life Forms

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  • theologian's typo? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @02:25AM (#21735660)
    That is _imminence_, or the quality of being imminent...

    Immanence is almost another entirely: []
  • by wizardforce ( 1005805 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:17AM (#21736018) Journal
    *ahem* there's no reason why we would need to specifically build artificial life based on DNA or RNA for that matter, there are several analogues that do jsut as well. maybe in time we'll find a completely different way of doing things that doesn't require anything remotely resembling the sugar phosphodiester backbone common in genetic systems today. even if we decided to base things on the DNA backbone, we could and probably will be using entirely different nucleotide bases to encode everything- none of which are known to exist in natural, healthy genetic systems.
  • Re:Oh come on... (Score:3, Informative)

    by heinousjay ( 683506 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:22AM (#21736052) Journal
    Pretty much every definition of life I've ever seen included reproduction. I don't recall ever seeing tractors and airplanes reproduce. Software is only virtual anyway, and the arguments aren't very interesting unless one is in the mood to get very abstract. Do you have any more bad examples?
  • by wyldeone ( 785673 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:23AM (#21736064) Homepage Journal

    *ahem* there's no reason why we would need to specifically build artificial life based on DNA or RNA for that matter, there are several analogues that do jsut as well

    Yes, there is. Doing so allows synthetic biologists to use all the cellular machinery, vastly simplifying their job. In case you didn't read the article, all the team referenced has done is create an artificial genome which, while still a very important achievement that will open many new doors in synthetic biology (assuming patent protections don't slam them shut), is nowhere near the difficulty of creating an entire organism from scratch, which is what you suggest would require.

  • Re:Whoa (Score:3, Informative)

    by QuantumG ( 50515 ) <> on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @04:05AM (#21736268) Homepage Journal
    It was announced this year that most of the genes of ecoli are now "understood" to the degree that we can now remove the genes we don't understand and still get a working system. It really is amazing how fast biotech is moving..

    J. Craig Venter [] is still the leading force. Next year he plans to publish a full artificial genome for a "minimalist" microbe. This thing can metabolize a feedstock and reproduce. All the genes are well understood. The structure of the proteins they make have been described. How the proteins interact has been studied. There are system schematics.

    This really is like an "operating system" for a cell. The kinds of "applications" you will run on it will likely not be anything like the biological processes. Using standardized parts like Biobricks [] from MIT, you'll be able to hack together multicellular systems for performing some exotic task. Anything from producing wanted biological products to computation.

  • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @12:10PM (#21739482) Homepage
    However, a voyage to the stars, without a good supply of replenishable vitamin C would become a trip delimited by a few days/weeks past the day when the vitamin C runs out.

    Uh... replace "vitamin C" with "food" and maybe the irrelevance of this issue will become apparent?

    It's not like minus vitamin C our bodies are self-sustaining. We still must intake sustenance. Any journey me take will be limited by the supply of food we can bring, which means for any truly lengthy journey we will need to grow food. And our hydroponics bay can't include oranges in the mix-up... why? And if not oranges, some source of the chemicals we use to make Vitamin C artificially today. Whichever. It'll all be part of solving the much bigger problem of food.
  • Re:not jsut DNA (Score:3, Informative)

    by aminorex ( 141494 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @01:49PM (#21740782) Homepage Journal
    Cogent, thanks. I think it's also worthwhile to point out that the original WaPo article is just wrong when it says that DNA contains "all of the instructions" necessary to construct a living organism. The proteome contains the "instructions", the program. The DNA is mere "data" which the proteome operates upon. The proteome is the interpretive mechanism for constructing a living device from the DNA blueprint, and contains all of the "intelligence" in the analogy to a -> house construction process.

    I mod DNA -1 overrated. GNA is +1 interesting. Proteome is +1 insightful. FWIW.

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