The Loom

Some of the blogs that I find most interesting are also the most sporadic. Fortunately, RSS feeds mean their occasional utterances don’t disappear off my radar. Rob Carlson’s blog, synthesis, is an excellent, deeply considered blog on the rise of synthetic biology. (Full disclosure–I interviewed Carlson for a recent article in Discover.) Even though a week or two may pass between posts, they’re always interesting. His latest entry, on the hype around Craig Venter’s development of artificial chromosomes, is like a very sharp needle poking a very fat balloon:

…the philosophical implications of constructing an artificial genome are overblown, in my humble opinion. It is interesting to see that it works, to be sure. But the notion that this demonstrates a blow against vitalism, or against other religious conceptions of life is, for me, just overexcitement. Venter and crew have managed to chemically synthesize a long polymer, a polymer biologically indistinguishable from naturally occurring DNA; so what? If that polymer runs a cell the same way natural DNA does, as we already knew that it would, so what? Over the last several millennia religious doctrine has shown itself to be an extremely flexible meme, accommodating dramatic changes in human understanding of natural phenomena. The earth is flat! Oh, wait, no problem. The earth is at the center of the universe! No? Okay, we can deal with that. Evolution is just another Theory! Bacteria evolve to escape antibiotics? Okay, God’s will. No problem. I can’t imagine it will be any different this time around.

Lots more here.


  1. #1 Ian
    December 13, 2007

    “Some of the blogs that I find most interesting are also the most sporadic.”
    (Thinks: I wonder if he says this because _his_ is sporadic?!

  2. #2 Rorschach
    December 13, 2007

    Hey, not everybody can be PZ Myers.

  3. #3 SMC
    December 13, 2007

    I agree – I got the impression that what was really impressive about this was technical rather than scientific. (That is, the result isn’t surprising, but the fact that they managed to actually achieve the result in real life was a reasonably impressive technical feat.)

  4. #4 Dave Briggs
    December 18, 2007

    I think this will bread questions and controversy but inevitably it has the potential for a lot of very helpful breakthroughs!
    Dave Briggs :~)

  5. #5 mr. gunn
    December 19, 2007

    It’s really quite refreshing to see that the scientific blogosphere is a little more resistant to the bubble-inducing echo chamber that constitutes much of tech blogging.

    Of course, if VCs were splashing money around here like they do in the tech field, that would probably change.

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