Wednesday, December 21, 2005

This is how it starts: The oohs and the ahhs ...

Dr. Ian Malcolm would be warning us to get the hell out of Dodge right about now, but let's see what you think. Is this a recipe for a bad 2006 or what?

Work on the world's first human-made species is well under way at a research complex in Rockville, Md., and scientists in Canada have been quietly conducting experiments to help bring such a creature to life.

Robert Holt, head of sequencing for the Genome Science Centre at the University of British Columbia, is leading efforts at his Vancouver lab to play a key role in the production of the first synthetic life form -- a microbe made from scratch.

We can see it now. "Oh, lookee! What a cute little microbe! What does he eat? Just about anything, you say? How efficient. And how does he reproduce? By fission? That's sweet. My goodness! Look, he's dividing right now. Let me look at him a little closer. Closer."


"I seem to have broken his containment cannister."

"I just feel terrible about my clumsiness. I'll clean up the mess."

"You know ... I'm feeling so terrible, I'm actually getting sick. The room is spinning."

"You don't suppose I'm infected with this little guy, do you? Did you hear me? What, you're sick too?"

"I'm so dreadfully ...."

The project is being spearheaded by U.S. scientist Craig Venter, who gained fame in his former job as head of Celera Genomics, which completed a privately-owned map of the human genome in 2000.

Dr. Venter, 59, has since shifted his focus from determining the chemical sequences that encode life to trying to design and build it: "We're going from reading to writing the genetic code," he said in an interview.

Yes, indeed. Let's find an appropriate educational metaphor for playing God.

Several scientific groups are trying to make genes that do not exist in nature, in hopes of constructing microbes that perform useful tasks, such as producing industrial chemicals, clean energy or drugs. Dr. Venter and his colleagues are pushing the technology to its limits by trying to put together an entirely synthetic genome.
Ethicists have raised concerns about humans altering the "nature of nature."

But proponents feel the many benefits of redesigning micro-organisms to do human bidding far outweigh the risks.

Far outweigh the risks? The risks include the accidental or intentional creation and release of the pathogen of no return. There is no benefit equal to that risk.

In such case, resistance is not only futile but impossible.


Post a Comment

<< Home