The Loom

Hacking Life

I’ve written a piece for Newsweek about how to program a cell. (The Newsweek International edition comes out this week; the US edition comes out next week.) I find the ongoing research exciting, but sometimes I wonder how much of its promise will become real. Programmable cells, for example, are an illustration of the exciting frontiers that can be explored with stem cells. It may be possible to wire the genetic circuits of a stem cell to make it grow into a particular sort of organ, produce a certain sort of hormone, etc. But it’s hard to see how any of that will come to pass if stem cell research withers on the vine. And when I look elsewhere in this week’s issue of Newsweek and see how we can’t even handle flu vaccines, my hope for medical progress in general starts to dim.

Hope springs eternal, though.


  1. #1 Adam
    October 29, 2004

    Stem cell research is vital and needs to be fully distinguished from reproductive cloning and the experimental use of “waste” embryos from IVF. To clone a person’s own cells and gather the stem cells needs to be seen as morally benign as tissue culture. No unique human life is lost in the process as there is no reproduction as we know it happening – no recombination etc etc that make unique zygotes. But if the religious right can get steamed up about the Pill causing zygotes not to implant, then I’m not sure how we can make them see this process in anything but a negative light.

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