Synthetic Life Is Born... Er, Synthesized

Posted by Andrew Price


Good/terrifying news! J. Craig Venter, the maverick geneticist, has created a new synthetic life form. Using an existing bacteria genome as a model, Venter's team created a new 1.08-million base pair genome and transplanted it into a natual cell, where it took over and started replicating.

As Venter described it during a press conference this morning, “This is the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer.” Popular Science says this "opens the door to engineered biology that is completely manipulated by laboratory scientists." Venter wants to use synthetic life to create algae that can eat carbon dioxide and produce fuel, but potential applications include creating new foods, speeding up the production of vaccines, and of course, taking over the world with an army of engineered superorganisms.

The number of people writing about this online will far exceed the number who know what they're talking about. If you want informed opinions, this PDF provides a roundup of reactions from eight actual experts.