The Loom

Fingerprints on Life

i-8f6fbf0c740cc95c3688e35aed32e9a5-human condition dc.jpgMy latest Dissection column for takes on the old tug-of-war between Nature and Artifice. As I write in my new book Microcosm: E. coli and the New Science of Life, scientists began to manufacture strange versions of the microbe in the early 1970s. In 1974, for example, scientists engineered E. coli carrying DNA from a frog. The difference between such “unnatural” bacteria and “natural” ones may seem obvious, but today the dividing line is surprisingly tricky to draw, and will only get trickier. In my new column, I describe the first systematic attempt to do so. Check it out.

(Image from National Gallery of Art)


  1. #1 Scott Belyea
    March 21, 2008

    Fascinating stuff.

    science’s broom will have to sweep it constantly clean.

    Sounds roughly similar to the constant updating done by the programmers of anti-virus software.

    But let’s be frank – all of these interesting articles are just ploys to get me to buy Microcosm as soon as it’s out! 🙂

    And your cunning plan has worked …

  2. #2 katie
    March 21, 2008

    Hi…I read your article and thought it was really interesting. But there was one thing I don’t really understand:

    Why is the border between natural and artificial real and important?

    Aren’t humans part of nature? And even the manipulations we do are just piggy-backing on what happens in nature–I would have thought that genetic engineering is just much more precise than natural or artificial selection. How do you define artificial?

    Your example about explorers in North America made me wonder about what we consider “artificial”.

  3. #3 Hume's Ghost
    March 22, 2008

    That and the other version of The Human Condition are two of my all time favorite paintings.

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