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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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  • 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?


  • 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.

  • Re:Um, guys.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Friday February 27, 2009 @06:57PM (#27018231)

    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: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.

  • by Orion Blastar ( 457579 ) <orionblastar&gmail,com> on Friday February 27, 2009 @07:12PM (#27018353) Homepage Journal

    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: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.

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

    by Tacvek ( 948259 ) on Friday February 27, 2009 @08:37PM (#27019087) Journal

    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.)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 27, 2009 @09:17PM (#27019383)

    > '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.

  • Send up a flare (Score:2, Interesting)

    by imhennessy ( 1425987 ) on Friday February 27, 2009 @10:59PM (#27019981)

    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 we've developed so far, and that reaction is intelligently designed, does not really have anything to do with the real problems that exist with pushing Intelligent Design as an alternate theory to evolution for explaining life.

    This comes up a lot when people want to talk about both religion and science. They exist in different domains. Religion does not propose testable, predictive hypotheses. Science does not purport to provide meaning for existence.

    Intelligent Design is not scientific.
    Genetic evolution is not religious.

    People can chose to reconcile religion and science, or pit them against each other. It is only when one or both are misused that there is conflict.

    That said, the misuse and conflict almost always comes from the religious side. That is based on personal experience and I have no numbers to back it up.


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