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Biotech Science

Biologist (Almost) Creates Artificial Life 539

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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  • No, sorry (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @07:01PM (#24939181)

    I won't count it as life until it can build more fatty molecules too.

  • because... (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @07:04PM (#24939217)

    life grown in a test tube environment is SOOO well adapted to a planet where other forms of life have fought a life and death battle for SIX BILLION YEARS.

  • Interesting work (Score:1, Interesting)

    by CrazyJim1 ( 809850 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @07:06PM (#24939249) Journal
    I think many people should be doing this because it is similar to the Star Trek theory that life could come out in Silicon or something we do not know it as. Of course, I think science should also try and database as many species as it can especially since many species are dying off before they're being cataloged. We should strive to know all the viable lifeforms possible even if they're extinct or not a species yet. I think this is one of the reasons why SciFi and Fantasy books and games are so fun, to see what it is like interacting with different life forms.

    As for the impact this has on people's belief on God. Personally, I know God exists, and it wouldn't shake my faith even if people start printing out lifeforms from their computer. Maybe I'll find people trying to reason away God more annoying, but it isn't my place to judge.
  • 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.

  • Re:Interesting work (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jmpeax ( 936370 ) * on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @07:20PM (#24939409)

    Personally, I know God exists

    Out of interest, how do you rationalise something other than God creating life?

    I ask because I noticed on the page your sig links to you write "the Bible is God's infallible word, and that he guided the translators perfectly to copy it." From the Bible:

    God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves

  • by phonicsmonkey ( 984955 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @07:36PM (#24939605)
    Creationism is based on faith, not arguments. Mountains of proof are enough to convince those who believe in what they wish were true, rather in what the evidence suggests.
  • 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?
  • Re:Creationism? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nawcom ( 941663 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @07:57PM (#24939841) Homepage

    "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.

    Remember - Creationists do not accept questions - only answers, and answers that agree with what their parents told them.

    They aren't supposed to question their god, for it's considered an unforgivable sin.

    Personally, I believe (yes, an atheist with a belief) that the day humans stop questioning everything is the day that science, technology, and discovery will halt. These people, like Jack Szostak, are questioning life. "God" isn't an acceptable answer.

  • Re:Interesting work (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Rick Bentley ( 988595 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @08:14PM (#24940107) Homepage
    Just curious: who created god?

    If the questions is: where did we come from? And the answer is "god created us", then aren't we just moving the problem around? Unless you answer where god came from then I don't think you have answered anything.
  • by forsey ( 1136633 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @08:18PM (#24940167)
    Isn't HOW the scientist creates life more important than IF the scientist creates life when considering it's relevance to proving or disproving Creationism. If the scientist creates life using methods which have a decent chance of naturally occurring, wouldn't that be evidence against creation. Where if it took more extraordinary and unnatural methods to create life wouldn't it be evidence in favor of creation?
  • Re:Umm. What? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @08:40PM (#24940449)

    While I agree your scenario is the most likely by far, there is a (significantly less likely) second option:

    [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]:"Oh, you mean one of the compounds the fungi evolved to secret in order to kill bacteria that has been fighting that war for millions of years? Yeah, doesn't affect me at all, it didn't evolve as a result of my environmental pressure, since I didn't exist until 10 days ago."

  • by plasmacutter ( 901737 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @09:04PM (#24940717)

    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:Interesting work (Score:3, Interesting)

    by StrategicIrony ( 1183007 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @09:27PM (#24940969)

    There are a bunch of people who argue that the King James version is the "correct, God-inspired translation", whereas there was no god-inspring going on for the newer translations such as the NIV and New World or the Darby, or any of the other 40 or 50 that are out there as linguistic exercises from various linguists and historians...

    But, to me, it seems they're more stuck on their childhood fondness for bible verses full of "thou" and "doth" and "shalt".

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

    by SuperSlug ( 799739 ) on Tuesday September 09, 2008 @09:53PM (#24941255)

    Ok here is some more evidence

    Bone structure and histology
    Growth rates
    Predator/prey ratios
    Speed and agility
    Rate of evolution
    Similarities with birds
    Parental Care
    Bone Isotope Composition
    Arctic Faunas

    Should I go on? There is a ton of evidence for each of these items that indicate that dinosaurs were warm blooded. There speed, growth rates and similarities with birds to the most obvious one.

  • 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:Interesting work (Score:3, Interesting)

    by arminw ( 717974 ) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @12:11AM (#24942493)

    ...I realize it's a fallacy to presume you believe 100% in the full text..

    Anyone who can truly believe the first verse of the Bible, should have no problem fully believing the rest of it.

  • Re:Interesting work (Score:3, Interesting)

    by arminw ( 717974 ) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @12:28AM (#24942661)

    ... If an acceptable answer for where the universe came from is that it always existed...

    The observed evidence is against the concept of an eternal universe. This used to be believed, but modern evidence points to a definite beginning of time, space and matter-energy. Scientists have labeled this creation event "The Big Bang" which arose from what they call a singularity.

    The evidence is that ALL of the universe, including time itself and all laws of physics, came into existence from this singularity. Nobody can calculate back any further than about 10^-44 seconds AFTER the singularity appeared. Nobody has any idea where the singularity itself came from. It seems to us it came from nothing, but this is a belief in the same way as a belief in God.

  • by Khyber ( 864651 ) <techkitsune@gmail.com> on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @12:51AM (#24942845) Homepage Journal

    I'll take the random A+ high school biology student over a Wikipedia article. This is coming from interviewing people for a position at my business - you can see the Wikipedia in the resume and hear/feel it in their oral interviews. If you pay attention to Wikipedia, that is. I prefer free-thinking high school students to Wikipedia whores anyday.

  • Re:Interesting work (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Weedlekin ( 836313 ) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @03:38AM (#24943703)

    "ALL other religions and world views always place their version of God within our time-space-matter-energy universe, or as as part of it."

    Balderdash. Hinduism for example says that this universe is one of many that have existed, and others will exist after it (their total number is supposedly greater than the drops of water in the Ganges). Each of them is created by Brahma The Creator, maintained by Vishnu the Preserver, and will eventually be destroyed by Shiva the Destroyer, who are mere avatars of The Great One, a being so complex that humans can only perceive minute and sometimes apparently self-contradictory aspects of it. The story says that one day to Brahma is greater than four thousand million human years, and when he sleeps at night, the Earth is destroyed, and will be recreated when he awakes. After Brahma has lived a number of these days equal to the days in a human life, Shiva will destroy this universe (an act that also destroys Shiva and Vishnu), leaving Brahma to create a new universe and new avatars of Vishnu and Shiva.

    "ONLY in the Bible does the real, eternal self-existent God reveal Himself as One outside of and entirely independent of the Universe and its content."

    Nobody who isn't living in complete ignorance of the writings of the many other religions that have existed during our history would make such a preposterous claim, because the African Kabuka and Mandinga religions have single gods who create the entirety of the universe, as does the original Korean religion (which calls the creator JuMulJu), the ancient Egyptian cosmogony of Ptah, and many, many other religions both ancient and modern.

  • by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @08:31AM (#24945039) Homepage Journal
    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.. what exactly are you trying to argue here? That we don't know anything, not even in science?

  • Re:Interesting work (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Zenaku ( 821866 ) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @09:53AM (#24945885)

    Here is the crux of the matter. You can either believe that the universe exists but was not created by anything, or you can believe that the universe must have been created by "God," who exists but was not created by anything.

    Both beliefs require accepting the existence of something that was not created.

    But we know the universe exists, we can directly observe that. Scientists only need to accept that this directly observable known thing called space-time didn't "come from" anywhere -- that it exists is a given.

    Theists need to first accept that God exists at all -- for which there is no evidence, except the axiom that the universe had to "come from" somewhere -- and then accept that this unobservable God himself didn't "come from" anywhere.

    So one belief is that an observed measurable thing exists but came from nowhere, while the other belief is that an unobserved unprovable thing exists but came from nowhere. Those are quite different.

  • Re:Interesting work (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Joey Vegetables ( 686525 ) on Wednesday September 10, 2008 @10:17AM (#24946181) Journal
    From my very limited background as an amateur, part-time Bible student in the past:
    • The oldest texts (Alexandrian family mainly) differ substantially from the later "Textus Receptus" family. These differences dwarf any subtle differences between translations based on the same textual family.
    • Most widely used English translations are actually pretty good. In particular, the KJV does a fairly good job of translating the TR (though the English is of course out of date) and the NIV does a decent job on the Alexandrian family.
    • People who prefer the KJV in spite of its dated English, including myself, often do so because they are not fully persuaded that a handful of older texts outweigh the evidence of numerous newer ones. But even in this group there are many (again including me) who would like an updated version of the KJV, keeping the same textual basis but updating the language to be more understandable to 21st century English speakers.
    • Even the substantial differences between Alexandrian and non-Alexandrian manuscript families are somewhat irrelevant to doctrine.
    • For the Old Testament we have a completely different problem. The text can be reconstructed fairly well. The meaning of the text sometimes cannot, because of our less than perfect knowledge of ancient Hebrew and Aramaic. The best evidence often comes from versions (translations) and while some of these are much later than the texts in question, they do provide valuable insight into the meaning.
    • The Greek LXX (Septuagint) version is enigmatic at best . . . it is not of particularly good quality, yet Jesus and the apostles quoted from it extensively, even in places where it appears to differ in meaning from the Hebrew text. To me this is an unsolved problem. It suggests a need for further research and questioning of many of the assumptions Bible scholars tend to make.

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