Engineer of Knowledge, frequent commenter on this blog sent me this article for our enrichment.
By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 25, 2008; A04
Scientists in Maryland yesterday said they had built from scratch an entire microbial chromosome, a loop of synthetic DNA carrying all the instructions that a simple cell needs to live and reproduce.
The feat marks the first time that anyone has made such a large strand of hereditary material from off-the-shelf chemical ingredients. Previous efforts had yielded DNA strands less than one-twentieth the size, and those pieces lacked many of the key biological programs that tell a cell how to stay alive.
On the basis of earlier experiments, the researchers believe the new, full-length loop would spontaneously "boot up" inside a cell, just as a downloaded operating system can awaken a computer -- a potentially historic event that would amount to the creation of the first truly artificial life form
Team members emphasized that they have not done that yet but expressed confidence that they would do so before the end of the year.
Lead scientist J. Craig Venter said the goal is to design novel microbes whose handcrafted genomes endow them with the ability produce useful chemicals, including renewable synthetic fuels that could substitute for oil.
Critics, however, countered that without better oversight of the fledgling field, synthetic biology is more likely to lead to the creation of potent biological weapons and runaway microbes that could wreak environmental havoc.
Critics. They always have a bucket of cold water nearby, don't they? I wonder, as well, if some 'religious' reason that will raise its ugly head in denial. Those who see science as evil seemingly have endless supplies of doubt to throw at scientists as they work to uncover the 'secrets' of nature. There may be some crackpot member of Congress who will raise roadblocks against this research, having received pressure from some interest group in his district.
Venter said the work was green-lighted by government offices, the National Academies and an independent ethics review board. Wouldn't it be great if all research scientists were allowed to be left to their creativity without having outsiders snooping through the windows of the laboratories?