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Biotech Science

Florida Lab Gets Pregnant 149

Synthetic Biology, a relatively new field, is seeking to find out what happened to a bunch of chemicals to make them capable of supporting a metabolism, replicating, and evolution. A Florida lab is showing some of the most promising advancements in this direction with their AEGIS (Artificially Expanded Genetic Information System) experiment. "AEGIS is not self-sustaining, at least not yet, and with 12 DNA building blocks -- as opposed to the usual four -- there's little chance it will be confused with natural life. Still, Benner is encouraged by the results. 'It's evolving. It's doing what we designed it to do,' said Benner, a biochemist with the Gainesville, Fla.-based Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution. In addition to providing an example of how alien life might be cobbled together, synthetic biology has a broad array of uses on the home front."
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Florida Lab Gets Pregnant

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  • eh (Score:1, Funny)

    Honey, we're pregnant.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 27, 2009 @06:03PM (#27017613)

    KFC rolled theirs out years ago.

  • Grey goo [], here we come.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Green goo actually, or maybe grayish-green goo would be more appropriate.

      On a more realistic note, those 12 artificial nucleotides they seem to have put in there probably aren't found in the environment make it unlikely anything to come out of it will get very far.

      I do of course realize that "probably" is an issue for some people who seem convinced that any possibility, no matter how small, when it comes to biological nightmare scenarios is an absolute certainty (specifically biology ones, they're more rati

    • Grey Goo Solution. []
      • You know that it only affects conductors that are, at least, a few meters wide, don't you?

        If an EMP has some impact on grey goo it will be making their lives easier once it destroy our machines.

        • A few meters? What are you smoking? I've seen HERF devices induce current on really small (inches) electronics. Whether that scales all the way down to nano I don't really know (probably depends on frequency and power), but it sure as hell isn't 'meters'.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by whong09 ( 1307849 )
      You realize that microbes already in nature have been evolving the moment they've showed up?
      Any sort of creation we make in the lab right now will ultimately be weaker than any successful microbe.

      Green goos already exist, they cause common colds.
    • by TapeCutter ( 624760 ) on Friday February 27, 2009 @08:30PM (#27019029) Journal
      Why do ludites (not accusing you) think artifical nanotech would NOT be eaten by the natural nanotech [] found around and within us? The people who think scientists can build such a machine are the ones who are guilty of hubris, not the scientists.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by marcosdumay ( 620877 )

        Because artificial machines may be able to deal with a much wider set of chemical reactions than we can. Also because they are inteligently designed and, thus, can be way better optimized than we are.

        I'm not very concerned about it destroying the humanity, but I can see how grey goo may disrupt other species.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by TapeCutter ( 624760 )
          I didn't say we can't disrupt nature, we have already done that with the closest thing we have to grey-goo, ie: pollution. My point is that nature will disrupt grey-goo no matter how intellegent or efficient it's design. In fact most, if not all, of said designs will be inspired by observing their natural conterparts.
          • Ok, disrupt isn't a good word here.

            My point was that, as we get better on it, we may become able to outcompete nature, and even replace life entirely

            Of course, that doesn't apply to this specific experiment. (Nor anything I'm expecting to happen at the next 50 years...)

      • by ZosX ( 517789 )

        What makes you think a T-Cell can eat a nanomachine? Can you eat a laptop? Chew it? Swallow it? Didn't think so.....

    • grey goo is for nano-machines, not synthetic life forms. A better terror reference would be the Andromeda Strain.
  • many uses (Score:3, Funny)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Friday February 27, 2009 @06:04PM (#27017637) Journal

    In addition to providing an example of how alien life might be cobbled together, synthetic biology has a broad array of uses on the home front

    Oh yes! Like holding the world hostage!! Now where can I get some mind-controlling synthetic life forms? (don't forget the insulin dependence []).

  • by Tired and Emotional ( 750842 ) on Friday February 27, 2009 @06:05PM (#27017649)
    it engulfs its first white lab coated scientist.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 27, 2009 @06:10PM (#27017693)
    Who wants to bet me $20 they just use this technology to invent the first self-replicating pet-boob?
  • Um, guys.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Itninja ( 937614 ) on Friday February 27, 2009 @06:11PM (#27017697) Homepage

    'It's evolving. It's doing what we designed it to do,'

    Isn't that statement eating itself?

    • by Intron ( 870560 ) on Friday February 27, 2009 @06:15PM (#27017731)
      It's the first intelligently designed evolving system.
    • by jd ( 1658 )

      What they MEAN to say is: we never came up with a design, we don't know what it's doing (besides fiendishly difficult quadratic equations) and we want to pass this off as deliberate so we get our next grant cheque.

    • by $0.02 ( 618911 )
      No. These are two statements eating each other.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Subject confusion I think. They designed the system to produce evolving artificial bugs, which are the ones doing the evolving. Also they set the system up to evolve (design), but they arent' directing the evolution?

    • Re:Um, guys.... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by marcello_dl ( 667940 ) on Friday February 27, 2009 @07:38PM (#27018579) Homepage Journal

      'It's evolving. It's doing what we designed it to do,'

      Isn't that statement eating itself?

      No, it is proof that the ID vs. evolution argument is bogus.
      Something can both evolve AND be the product of the will of somebody. Also, for a hypothetical eternal god POV, not bound by time, there is no "let's setup something and see how it evolves". It is more like "Let's do it, done.", even if it involves uncertainty, free will, evolution: all of those concepts are bound to time, a god is not.

      A more classic proof of the argument being bogus is the fact that evolution is not a dogma and ID is not an acceptable scientific theory (unless you have scientific proof of a god to back it up, which slashdot has not reported AFAIK :) )

      A cynic proof of the argument being bogus is: it doesn't solve anything, it needlessly divides people, it is perfect for the media to fill up pages instead of giving people useful information.
      No ruling class ever liked their sheep to get too smart.

      Of course, having proved ID independent from evolution and doesn't mean either is true.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        I mean no offense here, but I think you're confused about what ID is, and what its purpose is. It's much easier of you just assume ID = Creationism and the attempt to get said Creationism into public schools. See here: See here: []

        ID is not merely the belief in a god that could have designed the universe (plenty of theists acknowledge evolution. The entire Catholic church, for instance). ID is dependent on the creation stories in Ge

        • > ID is dependent on the creation stories in Genesis, and is strictly anti-evolution.

          "for dust you are and to dust you will return" seems evolutionary enough to me :D but i digress. Thank you for your comment.

          • Yeah, I always wondered about that one as well. God breathing life into mud sounds a lot like abiogenesis to me. But good luck trying to tell a young earth creationist or a flat-earther that.

        • by redxxx ( 1194349 )

          This is all correct. For instance, we know that ID in the Dover case is creationism dressed up as science, because the textbook originally advocated by the IDers was about Creationism in it's early drafts and was changed after the earlier court cases banning Creationism from being taught in schools. The diff was the cornerstone of the complaint's case.

          We know that this is being done to introduce Chrisitanity into public schools, because those supporting ID, the Discovery Institute, said as much in the Wed []

          • You may be right. They surely have not given up. But I feel like when I look at the history of the movement, I see them trying again and again to convince school boards and getting slapped again and again by the courts. No one's buying the name changes, either. For instance, the most recent tactic is "teach the controversy" but Judge Jones said in the Kitzmiller ruling, "This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard."

            I'm not sure they'll ever give up, and the fact that we have such vocal Luddit

      • Ok. So now you're allowing something's definition to be infinitely expanded?

        Now I say God isn't just not bound by time, it's also not bound by logic. In fact, logic does not exist, the logic we see is just an illusion produced by God. (NOT FALSE) is not (TRUE), (TRUE OR FALSE) is not TRUE, and 1 + 1 in binary is not 10. Nothing is true, only God is true. So there, argue against that. ;-)

        Of course, I don't really believe in creationism either. But it seems to me it's fruitless to argue against those peo
      • As another slashdot poster once said, "A plus 1! A plus 1! My kingdom for a plus 1!"
    • by Sibko ( 1036168 )
      Not if what they designed it to do was evolve...
  • Not my fault (Score:1, Redundant)

    by SnarfQuest ( 469614 )

    Don't blaim me! I thought she was on the pill!

  • are there any details available? Please?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 27, 2009 @06:23PM (#27017819)

    For the sake of argument, if scientists start "guiding" synthetic life through "evolution" in the lab, isn't that ID?

    If so, does it boost the ID argument for *our* creation?


    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Only if you're trying to make the argument that humans guided the evolution of humans. It's about as logical an argument as I've ever heard from the ID crowd, but it's still pretty stupid.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Or aliens, we could have been some alien high school science fair project that went wrong, so they shot the "Grey goo" to Earth and it evolved into the lifeforms we now have.

        Would it be interesting to find out that we created ourselves via AEGIS and shot it back in time via a time travel paradox?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      No more than breeding cows or strains of wheat is an argument for ID.

  • So when it starts reproducing itself, how long will it take to stop it?

    • Might be easier to move to a new planet.
    • by pavon ( 30274 )

      No kidding. I'm quite thankful that Aegis [] is not yet self-replicating.

    • Re:World domination (Score:5, Interesting)

      by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Friday February 27, 2009 @07:09PM (#27018321)

      Anything to come out of those vats would probably need most of the 12 artifical nucleotides, which aren't found in any apreciable quantity outside of the vat. If any gets out it would quickly starve. Not to mention that depending on the conditions that they are evolving under, there might be more immediate problems for anything escaping. Early life evolved under anerobic conditions, oxygen is pretty toxic to cells. They're probably generating these things under anerobic conditions to mimic what were thought to be early conditions of the earth and to maybe encourage things to start growing. I would expect that any bugs growing in this system would be poisoned by oxygen once outside pretty rapidly, much as bacteria from early earth would. Also temperatures are probably much higher in the vats.

      Since the vats are -probably- extremely rich in all 12 artificial nucleotides, devoid of oxygen, and very warm in all places, there wouldn't be any advantage or reason for the bugs to evolve ways of overcoming those conditions. There'd be no reason for them to develop ways of making their own artificial nucleotides since they're provided. In fact that would probably be a detriment, since any way of converting one of the natural 4 would be costly to the cell in terms of energetics and would have no gain, they'd quickly be out-proliferated by their bretheren who don't waste energy on things like that. In other words, once stepping out of the vat, they'd be presented with an extremely harsh environment they're totally unprepared for.

      I am of course making some assumptions there. I guess we can't rule it out entirely, but there are millions of unlikely apocalypses you can't completely rule out.

      • Re:World domination (Score:5, Interesting)

        by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Friday February 27, 2009 @07:17PM (#27018399) Journal

        I think those are not unreasonable assumptions, providing they're maintained in that environment. The more interesting (and much more nasty) experiment would be to let the critters breed for many generations, letting the fittest gain control of their little ecosystem, then slowly introduce elements of the external environment in, making the habitat *less* supportive. Eventually, and I'm sure this would take a long time (several generations of scientists, say), you would produce an organism potentially capable of surviving outside the vat.

        At that point, of course, it would still have to put up with 4 billion years worth of evolution on the outside, with organisms of considerably more complexity in finding and utilizing food sources. A good example are nylon-eating bacteria []. In the space of no more than forty years, a population of bacteria learned how to eat a food that hadn't even existed prior to 1935.

        Any organism we make in a vat would, I suspect, not last terribly long on the outside.

        • by geekoid ( 135745 )

          You could probably do that in the lab in less then a decade.

        • by jamstar7 ( 694492 ) on Friday February 27, 2009 @08:02PM (#27018793)

          Any organism we make in a vat would, I suspect, not last terribly long on the outside.

          Particularly in the Deep South, where barbeque is almost a religion on its own.

          People for Eating Tasty Animals, anyone?

        • Interesting, your post echoed mine but you got modded up faster than me...

          I agree. I do not think that these bacteria would last long outside the AGEIS system. ;-P

          In seriousness, I think the 8 artificial nucleotide dependance is a pretty high hurdle. Evolving to the point of being able to make all 12 nucleotides from the natural 4 or other natural building blocks is possible, but I'm doubtful that it would ever be competitive with bacteria that don't bother doing that. Lowering the amount of artificial n

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by imhennessy ( 1425987 )

        To quote Dr. Ian Malcom: "Life. Finds. A. Way."

        It was almost like Jeff Goldblum was channeling Shatner, but acting him as more human than he was when not acting.


        • To quote Dr. Ian Malcom: "Life. Finds. A. Way."

          If given enough time it might. I'm reassured by the fact that after more than 4 billion years, life on Earth apparently has yet to leave it's much much bigger vat. For that reason, I propose we don't leave AGEIS running for more than a billion years.

      • The lack of humility before nature that's being displayed here staggers me.

        Don't you see the danger inherent in what you're doing here? Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet's ever witnessed, yet you wield it like a kid that's found his dad's gun.

        If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us it's that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, expands to new territory, and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously.

        Your scientists were so preoccupied with whet

        • Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet's ever witnessed, yet you wield it like a kid that's found his dad's gun.

          I do?!? Gee, I thought I was just idly commenting on someone who was doing what you just described. Or are you talking about my... er... extracirricular genetic experimentation? That's really none of your buisness and off-topic.

          If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us it's that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, expands to new territory, and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously.

          And slowly (at least on the timescale for a human life). Again, how long has it taken us to colonize space? How long did it take life to conquer dry land? Was it weeks, years, or millions of years? I think we'll get bored with AGEIS long before a warlike tribe of superhumans c

  • OT: online news (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Friday February 27, 2009 @06:31PM (#27017923) Homepage Journal
    TFA has this caption:

    Researchers in a Florida laboratory are working with the most asic building blocks of life to try and understand how biology first arose on Earth â" and how it might appear on other planets.

    Seriously, I know these pages are assembled by software from other sources but don't they have spell checking built into them? Lots of otherwise good news sources I read have stupid typos in their online versions. Right now firefox is underlining "asic" for me, pointing out the mistake. It seems like every second article has something like this. It just seems so easy to fix. I wonder why that isn't done.

    • by QuasiEvil ( 74356 ) on Friday February 27, 2009 @06:39PM (#27018005)

      Clearly if I made artificial life, I'd put it on an ASIC. Otherwise you'd just have too many discrete components and general purpose things to get it in a tiny package.

      Then again I'm an EE, and I equate everything biological to the word "slimy" in my mind. Mechanical life for the win...

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Tacvek ( 948259 )

        Artificial life on an ASIC? How quaint a notion. Artificial life would work better in an FPGA so as to be able to reconfigure large portions of itself. (Although I will of course grant that a custom FPGA may be used, perhaps with some special hard coded logic, which may make it an ASIC if the result is not sufficently general purpose.)

    • the answer to :" I wonder why that isn't done" is always because you haven't done it. please don't victimize yourself anymore - life will be much more fulfilling. (sorry that's not supposed to sound patronizing, but, alas, it does)
  • And we Dub this "T-Virus"....
  • Sounds like weird science x

    where x=fiction

  • It's ALIVE!
  • can sue a scientist for child support and alimony for getting her pregnant?

  • I mean breeding Labradors is not really big news. Even in Florida.

  • I for one welcome our new genetically-crafted superior being overlords. Almost... not.. quite.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    > 'It's evolving. It's doing what we designed it to do...'

    It's almost like a scientist is saying that evolution can take place as the result of an intelligent design process.

    I'm sure I'll get flamed for saying that.

    Things like, "Certainly not this evolution, and certainly no intelligence could be great enough to have foreseen it." After all, we're number one. The smartest. No possibility of anything greater.

    After all, extrapolation is only for climate data, and then, only on hot days.

  • Georgia enters child support negotiations.
  • Send up a flare (Score:2, Interesting)

    by imhennessy ( 1425987 )

    when they trounce cell theory. A bunch of chemicals which preferentially catalyze feedstock to produce identical/similar chemicals is interesting, and very difficult to do from scratch, but I want CELLS! Self enclosed systems.

    I suppose cells are not really needed for life, but it seems pretty clear that they provide certain advantages, especially in terms of not just getting washed away.

    On the topic of ID: just because there is a chemical reaction that seems to be approaching the fuzzy definition of life

    • Viruses aren't cells. Of course, not everyone would call a virus "life", but of course they're not exactly non-life either.

      There's also's interesting how much of a gray area there is between life and non-life. These guys are clearly having a lot of fun playing around in that gray area.

      As for ID (sigh), it's a rejection of *evolution* theory based on Christian theology. This research seems like it has more implications for abiogenesis than it does for evolution. Also...don't do them the service o

You will never amount to much. -- Munich Schoolmaster, to Albert Einstein, age 10