After years of painstaking research and experimentation, genomic pioneer J. Craig Venter has accomplished a long-awaited goal: he and his team at the J. Craig Venter Institute have introduced a synthetic genome into bacterial cells that can grow and replicate itself. Some have gone as far as calling this engineered bacterium a new form of artificial life, though Venter has opted for the term “synthetic cell.” Whatever you call it, it’s a major milestone in the growing field of synthetic biology. Christina Agapakis and PZ Myers had some of the first in-depth reactions to the breaking news. And if you want to know more about Venter himself, check his manifesto on the future of science in Seed Magazine: Bigger Faster Better.
- What Synthia Means To Me
Oscillator, May 21, 2010
- It’s ALIVE!
Pharyngula, May 20, 2010
- Bigger Faster Better
Seed Magazine, November 20, 2008
Now that we’ve all had a few days to let it fully sink in, the Monday morning synthetic biologists are debating what this all actually means. Did Venter really create new life? Play God? Simply (or not so simply) push the technological limits of his field? All or none of the above? Answers to those questions are rolling in from the scientific community (and criticisms are pouring in from without) though the mainstream press had been so far oddly quiet about what could be “a turning-point in the history of our species and our planet.”
The quote at the end of that last paragraph comes from Freeman Dyson, whose reaction to Venter’s synthetic bacterium is up at Edge.org, Alongside it are short essays from Rodney Brooks, Richard Dawkins, Nassim N. Taleb, Daniel C. Dennett, Dimitar Sasselov, Antony Hegarty, George Dyson, Kevin Kelly,George Church (who also contributed to Nature’s reaction round-up), and our own PZ Myers,
Over at Pharyngula, PZ has begun compiling a list of doom-saying opinion pieces and is picking them off one-by-one. Of course, PZ puts a caveat in the title of his take-down: these are only the ill-informed criticisms. Amongst the biologically informed, the debate is really about whether Venter’s creation is really a conceptual breakthrough and a new form of life, or merely hard-won technical feat. That debate precariously balances on the definition of life itself, a topic worth revisiting in this Carl Zimmer cover story from Seed Magazine.
And If you want to go straight to the source, the full text of the Venter et. al. paper has been made freely available on Science‘s site. There’s also Venter’s press conference, below: