Friday, 21 May 2010

BBC News - 'Artificial life' breakthrough announced by scientists


Scientists in the US have succeeded in developing the first synthetic living cell.

The researchers constructed a bacterium's "genetic software" and transplanted it into a host cell.

The resulting microbe then looked and behaved like the species "dictated" by the synthetic DNA.

This reminds me of the story of a group of scientists who, after years of work, finally produced a human being. They realised in their moment of triumph that someone had to take on the onerous job of telling God that he was redundant. No one was keen to do it and so they drew straws and the one who got the short straw got the task.

God listened patiently as this man explained that, in light of recent scientific advancements, God was now surplus to requirements. Then God said, “Alright, I see your point. Lets have a contest.”

“What sort of contest?” asked the scientist.

“Well”, said God, “You make a human being and I make a human being and whoever makes the better model gets the job while the other retires.”

“Alright”, said the scientist as he stooped down to take up a handful of soil.

“What are you doing?” asked God.

“I’m collecting up some of the basic building blocks of life” the scientist replied.

“Oh, no”, God said, “That’s cheating. You go and get your own dirt.”


No doubt there will be those who will worry about this latest development and, certainly, there are serious ethical issues to be considered. However it should be remembered that this synthetic living cell, while its creation is an incredible achievement, hasn’t actually been “created.” The genetic information pre-existed, as did the host cell, and what science has done is effectively copy the former and put it into the structure of the latter. No mean feat I am sure but nowhere near the actual act or process of “creation” as described in the Bible.

It is rather like typing this blog post. These words were already there, the computer on which I am typing already existed and, although I like to think there is some originality in my creating this post, the ideas were already out there. What I have done is take all these pre-existing factors and ordered them such that they express my thoughts. The worrying thing about this development is not that science is somehow making God redundant but that humans are doing these things without any reference to God. But then we have been doing this for some time now and on the whole the world is a worse place for it. As the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

BBC News - 'Artificial life' breakthrough announced by scientists

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