If you thought cloning was a big deal, you might want to sit down before reading this. We've gotten so far in trying to create life that scientists have actually been able to create life from technology alone. Calling this "the first self-replicating species we've had on the planet whose parent is a computer," scientists have developed a completely synthetic cell fully capable of reproducing. Yep, life borne of a computer. According to the J Craig Venter Institute, eukaryotic yeast was a critical player in the process to create a synthetic bacteria M. mycoides. The yeast filled the gaps in the broken genome sequence of M. mycoides, creating a new species. Scientists "watermarked" their new creation so it wouldn't be mistaken for a natural species. The synthetic genome was then transplanted into another type of bacteria, Mycoplasma capricolum, where the synthetic genome started producing new proteins. As the cell replicated themselves, cells were produced solely of the synthesized genome. And voila - the scientists had a bacteria created completely from synthesized DNA.
The institute highlights that the potential for this technology is enormous - it is, after all, life completely designed by lab scientists. Engineers at the research institute are looking in to engineering algae designed to trap carbon dioxide and change it to biofuel, and are dreaming up other applications from environmental clean-up and energy production.
Of course, these are some great key words for a research company to toss out right now, since everyone is interested in quick, easy fixes for the gulf oil spill and alternatives for energy to decrease our reliance on oil. However, we have to be intensely wary about the unintended consistences these advancements may have.
WATCH VIDEO: Creating Synthetic Life
Pop Science writes, "There are also plenty ethical - and legal - ramifications to such a technological advance that will no doubt be argued in coming months," also pointing out that the technology isn't nearly developed enough to see the synthetic creation of mammals.
Even though more complex life might be years away from lab development, the most simple living organisms on our planet can make enormous changes. Algae may be far more basic than mammals, but get enough algae together and it can wreak havoc - large blooms of it cause dead zones, and those large blooms have been sparked in no small part by a flood of fertilizers coming from the rush to grow biofuels....unintended consiquences. The science is extraordinary, but so too can be the problems caused by it.
Have questions about synthetic life? Discovery's Science Channel is premiering Creating Synthetic Life: Your Questions Answered on Thursday, June 3, 2010, at 9 PM (ET). This one-hour special is an open forum discussion featuring Dr. Venter, leading bioethicists, top scientists and other members of the scientific community discussing the breakthrough's ramifications and how it may change our world and the future. Your Questions Answered allows viewers to ask the experts about how this technology will affect their lives. From now through May 26, submit your questions via Facebook, and they could be asked during the show.
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