Venter and Synthetic Life

As I’m sure many of you know, Craig Venter and his teamed have succeeded in designing the first example of synthetic life.  At this stage, all they did was copy the DNA sequence from one species of bacteria, take this synthetic chromosome, and get a donor cell from another species to accept it.  Once the synthetic chromosome was inside the donor cell, it took charge and instantly converted one species into another.  Now scientists have a system set up that awaits new software programs.

Yet Venter himself views this scientific advance as having a philosophical implication:

Venter also points to what the cells–powered by genomes made in a lab from four bottles of chemicals, based on instructions stored on a computer–reveal about what life is. “This is as much a philosophical as a technological advance,” he says. “The notion that this is possible means bacterial cells are software-driven biological machines. If you change the software, you build a new machine. I’m still amazed by it.”

Personally, I would say that a bacterial cell is a software-driven, machine-dependent system, but who am I to argue with the leading scientist in the field of designing life?  I’m quite happy to point out that cells as software-driven biological machines really amount to the same thing I have been saying for close to a decade now – cells are an example of carbon-based nanotechnology.  People might not agree, but they can hardly make a strong case that this description and perception is unreasonable.

Yet the reasonable core of my thesis goes further.  If you have read this blog for some time, you know I have been exploring the possibility that our planet was seeded with bioengineered cells that terraformed the planet to facilitate a front-loaded objective.  Well, check out this little except from an interview with Venter:

Venter was also asked if genetically engineered bacteria could someday terraform the surface of Mars to make the planet habitable. Sure, he said, and they might also pave the way for further exploration of space:

We are in a bacterial universe. There’s been questions from some people at NASA; could we design microbes that would enable long-term spaceflight by regenerating oxygen or destroying waste products such as carbon dioxide. So, I think this is one of those intriguing areas, perhaps like the early electronics industry, where we have some basic tools, and we’re limited more by our imaginations right now, and I think there will be some very exciting solutions, that new young scientists come up with in the future.

People at NASA are asking about using bioengineered cells as part of space exploration?  Hmmm.  Just who was it that wrote, “Looking at a cell is like looking into the future of our own designs?”

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13 responses to “Venter and Synthetic Life

  1. I noticed they used “terraform” in the interview. You didn’t coin that word, did you?

  2. Nope. That’s been around in scifi for some time now.

  3. “…bacterial cells are software-driven biological machines.”

    Isn’t that an admission that ID is right? Doesn’t this mean we win? Doesn’t this mean the other side has to buy the first round of beer? C’mon guys. Game over. Fat lady’s singing.

  4. Nullasalus

    I imagine the ante would be upped, where ID opponents would dig in their heels and insist that even if biological cells really are ‘software-driven biological machines’, that the universe and parts of it are ‘software-driving non-biological machines’.

    After all, who would dare suggest that the universe itself was designed? 😉

  5. What about her designers could be learned from “Synthia”?

    They don’t begin from “scratch.”

    They are unoriginal. Not very creative.

    OTOH, being positive, they are natural mimics!

    Mere tinkerers. Small risk takers.

    Very very wasteful.

    And nothing they do will last. A kind of genetic graffiti and little more. Not even sure that their contribution as designers would even be detectable, being so miniscule.

    Darwin argued that humans would never duplicate the feats of natural selection. I’m not that impressed by this latest feat of “intelligent design.”

    Venter and his group of designers sound like Dawkins’ “Blind Watchmaker.” How would I know the difference?

  6. Mere tinkerers. Small risk takers.

    Very very wasteful.

    And nothing they do will last. A kind of genetic graffiti and little more. Not even sure that their contribution as designers would even be detectable, being so miniscule.

    Rock won’t be impressed until Venter creates an army of replicants that look like Darryl Hannah.

  7. Are we talking the way Darryl looks now, or twenty years ago?

  8. Definitely pre-Jackson-Browne Daryl Hannah.

  9. When was that? I never kept up with her love life.

  10. LOL You guys aren’t very original either!

    And however beautiful a world populated by Darryl Hannah clones would be, it wouldn’t last either.

    Even designers know that variety is necessary for survival–considering it a law.

    One has to wonder how this “xenomorphism” effects debates over “genetic determinism”?

    Was it ever really an issue?

  11. Rock: And however beautiful a world populated by Darryl Hannah clones would be, it wouldn’t last either.

    So “everlasting beauty” is what will make you stand up and applaud the designer? You are a tough customer, Rock. Where do you suppose we could find everlasting beauty here on earth – assuming such a thing is possible?

    Even designers know that variety is necessary for survival–considering it a law.

    Did you mean “variability”? If so, I still have my doubts!

  12. Rock has a point. I see no reason for Venter to limit the clones to just Daryl. Let’s include the top twenty Hollywood beauties. I’d start with Sophia Loren.

  13. See Craig Venter talks about his creation of synthetic life in the blog above.

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