There is an interesting and very thoughtful piece by Craig Venter and Daniel Gibson in today's Wall Street Journal going through what their breakthrough is and what it isn't, where they see the project going in the future, and why public discussion is important:
[Previous genetic engineers] did not create life in a test tube, nor did we create life from scratch. We transformed existing life into new life. We also did not design and build a new chromosome from nothing. Rather, using only digitized information, we synthesized a modified version of the naturally occurring Mycoplasma mycoides genome. The result is not an "artificial" life form. It is a very real, self-replicating cell that most microbiologists would be unable to readily distinguish from the naturally occurring counterpart without the aid of DNA sequencing.
This topic is going to be a disaster in public affairas due to the 'ethicists'. It seems like you can just sit and stare at a wall after someone makes a grand discovery and then stop their work by thinking of consequences which may or may not happen. As if the riddles of the universe come by sitting there twiddling your thumbs, rather than doing.
Reminds me of this quote that comes from a t shirt.
Philosophers and talk be damned.
Let's just start doing fun stuff with it.