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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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  • by Angry Toad ( 314562 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @02:39AM (#21735772)
    True but nature's selection criteria aren't the same as man's. We can probably hit maxima that would be outcompeted in nature in a second. There are probably lots of unique and useful solutions out there when survival constraints are relaxed.
  • not jsut DNA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wizardforce ( 1005805 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @02:45AM (#21735820) Journal
    who says artificial life needs to be based on DNA? The earliest forms of life probably used RNA instead or one of its cousins like TNA, GNA, PNA or LNA. DNA is only special in the fact that it is missing a key hydroxyl group in the 2 position. this makes DNA more stable because there's no nucleophillic group there toi assist in self-cleavage of the phosphodiester bond. GNA has a backbone of glycerol rather than ribose [RNA] or deoxyribose [DNA]. PNA uses a reperating serine polypeptide backbone and because the whole thing has no charge like DNA does it has a much higher melting temperature [can withstand more heat] which may make it superior to DNA or RNA in some applications in biology. TNA on the other hand, has a synthetic polymerase enzyme that has to my knowledge, been able to create strands 1000 bases long. then there's alternative nucleotide bases, there are similar molecules to the naturally occuring 5 that also can encode for proteins and act in genetic systems. there's a lot that can be done with this, it's just a pity that it will probably be encumbered in patents if and when any of it is realized.
  • Re:Oh come on... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by QuantumG ( 50515 ) <> on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:05AM (#21735954) Homepage Journal
    the term "life" has zero meaning and will continue to have zero meaning. Any sensible definition you care to give will also classify computer programs, tractors and aeroplanes, unless you specifically exclude them. For a while, people have gotten around this by saying "oh, I mean biological life" but now that we're making machines out of biological "stuff" that trick doesn't work anymore.
  • Whoa (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jandersen ( 462034 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @03:45AM (#21736174)
    Hold it, hold it! We're not quite there yet. It was only yesterday, on the historical timescale, that we discovered DNA and now we are beginning to get some vague ideas about how some of the things actually work. We can even theorize about correcting errors in people's genetic code, but creating a living cell from scratch? Not even the best biologists know more than a tiny fraction of what goes into making a living cell function. IOW, we are far, far out in the world of science fiction here nobody is just on the threshold to discovering how to create living cells from scratch, or even mostly from scratch.

    If and when that ever happens, I don't think any of the readers of /. will be around. The problem with absurd, sweeping patents will have solved itself by collapsing completely, capitalism is likely to have been left behind as yet another temporary absurdity in human culture, the climate change crisis will have run its course and found its solution, and if humanity is still around, we will have found a role as the guardians and preservers of the planets.
  • by mark-t ( 151149 ) <markt.nerdflat@com> on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @04:08AM (#21736286) Journal
    <troll>If many hundreds of thousands or millions of years from now when humanity is a thing of the past, descendants of the synthetic DNA creatures start debating about whether or not they evolved naturally, or were created by a long-forgotten designer? Of course the former would obviously be a more acceptable conclusion, since the latter creates additional complexity.</troll>
  • by DaedalusHKX ( 660194 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @05:18AM (#21736586) Journal
    You seem to know little about this subject.

    Testicles are among the least of our concerns... what SHOULD concern you, especially in a "SURVIVAL" related subject, is that man seems to have been meant to stay on Earth (until man gets over this particular problem.)

    See, man is one of TWO mammalian species that requires an external source of vitamin C... otherwise we get scurvy... and eventually kick the bucket. Interesting that Earth's apex predator is range limited by something so simple as carrying a satchel of oranges or lemons on the ship... (okay, not all specimens of homo sapiens qualify for more than "monkey" classification, granted, and some are not capable of even surviving in society, nevermind without said crutch.)

    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.

    Pretty sad, when you think about it, every schmuck is looking at all these "big" problems, instead of looking at the fundamentals. Testicles and their placement on the body is nowhere nearly as bad as the fact that every single instance of homo sapiens in space would be cut short by the vitamin C supply. Ironic really, perhaps "intelligent design" might warrant a second look, unless of course, evolution and any supernatural forces others might attribute evolution to "realized" that man was a plague, and should be limited to Earth until it managed to kill itself off, whether by grey goo, killer designer virus, or just plain good ole' nuclear warfare.

    If that isn't a vote for intelligent design or intelligent forces of evolution, I don't know what is :)
  • by ElizabethGreene ( 1185405 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @06:46AM (#21736878)
    There may be a "patent troll" of artificial life, but there will be no Microsoft. DNA is, by definition, open source.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @07:30AM (#21737116)
    As soon as one could create a lifeform using artifical DNA, they could bypass many ethical arguments for using these organisms as AI control systems because their DNA is not of "natural origin".

    Imagine, we probably do not just wire frog or dog brains to robot bodies because of ethical concerns... but if the frog or dog or primate brain came from an artifical DNA starting point, one could argue that there is no ethical challenge.

    And given that plasticity of brains, it would be easier to just wire organisms to robot bodies then to create a computer brain from scratch. (See research on speech and robotic/remote controls to paraplegics).

    Of course, if there are no ethical limitations for using animals in this way now.... well... the pandora's box might well be opened now.

    (I wonder if something like that might end up as an instructable?... Frog-brain controlled robotic model tanks.)
  • by crazyeddie740 ( 785275 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2007 @02:54PM (#21741762) Journal
    Existing is dangerous. That is what drives evolution. Evolution happens when chaos (mutation) and destruction (natural selection) conspire to create order. Who says destruction is a bad thing?

    A 'perfectly designed' being, in this case, would be one that its perfectly suited to its environmental niche. It might be an ant (ant species are stable over deep time, so they must be doing *something* right), or a bacteria. It might not be terribly complex or intelligent. (Have you ever wondered if the hicks that surround might actually be more evolutionary fit than yourself? brr!) If organisms could get away from the kind of matter and energy we know of into some kind of strange omni-vector energy, which is in omni-superposition, then that *might* increase their fitness. But then they probably wouldn't need such mundane things as a metabolism. In which case, it might be an open question whether or not these 'organisms' are actually alive.

    Perfection is not really obtainable. Bug fixes are, but this does not change the fact that there will always be one more bug. Perfection might not even be desirable - 'perfection' is relative to a particular environmental niche. Change the environment, change the niche, change what perfection means. Perfection (over-specialization) can get you killed.

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