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Friday, January 07, 2011

What Craig Venter actually accomplished with his synthetic cell

In the wake of breathless news stories like
MSNBC: "It's alive! Artificial DNA controls life"

UK Sun: "'Frankenstein' doc creates life"

BBC: "'Artificial life' breakthrough announced by scientists"

Comcast News: "A step to artificial life: Manmade DNA powers cell"

Vanity Fair: "Mankind Creates First Synthetic Genome, Officially Replaces God"

UK Daily Mail: "Scientist accused of playing God after creating artificial life by making designer microbe from scratch - but could it wipe out humanity?",
Don Johnson, at Science Integrity, explains the actual significance of Craig Venter’s “synthesized genome”:
The bottom line is that the Venter scientists accomplished something never before done. They put together components produced by living organisms, selected by genetic engineering to match a computer-specified sequence of digital information matching a target genome, in order to produce a genome matching that target. The resulting genome replaced the native genome of another bacterium of a different type, resulting in a "new" life form matching the target life. Perhaps the capability to build life for specific properties will follow, for example to destroy cancer cells or to eat oil from spills. Other capabilies may not be as attractive, such as creating a weapon destructive to human life, that would leave other life (and property) unharmed.
The purpose of his Web site is to expose unsubstantiated science claims.

Current pop media should keep him busy for the rest of his life.

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