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Biologist (Almost) Creates Artificial Life

Soulskill posted about 6 years ago | from the almost-doesn't-count dept.

Biotech 539

Aditya Malik writes "Wired has an interesting story up about how a lab led by Jack Szostak, a molecular biologist at Harvard Medical School, is building 'protocells' from artificial molecules which are very close to satisfying the conditions for being 'alive.' 'Szostak's protocells are built from fatty molecules that can trap bits of nucleic acids that contain the source code for replication. Combined with a process that harnesses external energy from the sun or chemical reactions, they could form a self-replicating, evolving system that satisfies the conditions of life, but isn't anything like life on earth now, but might represent life as it began or could exist elsewhere in the universe.' This obviously raises some questions about creationism, not to mention some scary bio-research-gone-wild scenarios."

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No, sorry (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24939181)

I won't count it as life until it can build more fatty molecules too.

Re:No, sorry (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24939243)

Life or not, I for one will not be welcoming our fatty molecule overlords.

grey goo? (1)

speculatrix (678524) | about 6 years ago | (#24939187)

is it grey, and is it gooey? in which case, it looks like the end of the world [wapedia.mobi] is nigh!

Re:grey goo? (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24939393)

Wouldn't that be green goo? Grey goo is non-biologic mini Von Neumann machines.

Re:grey goo? (2, Informative)

philspear (1142299) | about 6 years ago | (#24939579)

Do von neumann machines have to be made out of inorganic materials? If not, I think these qualify, although green goo might be more precise.

Re:grey goo? (1)

couchslug (175151) | about 6 years ago | (#24939827)

"is it grey, and is it gooey? in which case, it looks like the end of the world [wapedia.mobi] is nigh!"

"Nanites eh? Bah, humbug!"

Self Replicating? (2, Funny)

NoobixCube (1133473) | about 6 years ago | (#24939201)

I know they aren't really Von Neuman machines, but that phrase always puts me in mind of a replicator apocalypse...

Re:Self Replicating? (4, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | about 6 years ago | (#24939247)

Why? You don't imagine that something as fragile and immature as this could actually compete outside the lab do you?

Hell, take an existing microbe and remove the genes that regulate its pH level and it will kill itself in a few generations.

It wasn't you who sent the death threats to the LHC physicists was it?

Re:Self Replicating? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24939357)

All organisms self replicate. Just because something is lab-made doesn't mean it would magically not be subject to evolutionary forces.

I.E if these little fellas were to multiply explosively, there would be a resulting population explosions of protocell eating amoebas, and an amoeba eating shrimp, and a shrimp eating whale, and finally Norwegians.

Re:Self Replicating? (5, Informative)

philspear (1142299) | about 6 years ago | (#24939727)

All organisms self replicate. Just because something is lab-made doesn't mean it would magically not be subject to evolutionary forces.

Having not been made by natural evolutionary forces, it's unlikely they would be fit to survive in any natural environment. These things have not been instilled with any defenses against things looking to eat them including bacteria. Didn't read the article, but I would guess they aren't capable of digesting molecules, they probably have to be presented with ready to go "nutrients" to replicate, move or do anything. You don't find that anywhere in the real world, in fact, as I recall you don't even find that in your bloodstream. ATP is what your molecules use for power, but you only get that once your cells import glucose and your mitochondria turn it into ATP.

In other words, they have absolutely no way to eat anything they would need to survive.

In evolutionary biology, a major cause of extinction, at least in theory, is called "changing rules." If you're an organism doing well, you're highly adapted to your environment and proliferate. Think of the dinosaurs, they ruled the earth, bigger was better. Mammals were barely hanging on for dear life, small, furry, warm blooded, nocturnal didn't make sense at the time. If the rules suddenly change though through environmental shift, you might not be fit for the new environment. The asteroid hits, an ice age happens, and suddenly cold-blooded huge lizards can't cut it and massively go extinct. The only reason reptiles remain today is that there was significant variation in that clade that allowed some of them to survive in the new game.

These artificial bugs are barely managing to survive in an environment tailored to them, they can't replicate on their own. They also appear to have no variation. If they get out of their environment, they have no chance of survival. It's precisely because they're subject to evolutionary forces that they have no chance.

Re:Self Replicating? (1, Insightful)

NoobixCube (1133473) | about 6 years ago | (#24939749)

There's no telling what effect anything can have on an ecosystem until it's released into the wild. If it's completely unlike any currently existing life, then the life forms on a similar scale to it probably wouldn't understand it sufficiently to know how to interact with it (i.e, simple questions that don't require a great deal of sentience like 'is it predator or prey?' or 'is it a viable food source?'). I'm not a biologist, so maybe I'm not making a lick of sense, but how do you cram something totally new into the food web? Previous conservation efforts by humans (such as introducing the cane toad to Australia to eat the cane grubs) have proved disastrous, at best, because of unforeseen consequences.

Back to my original point, it's just short sighted to claim that it can't possibly compete outside a lab when anything could happen. To answer your question, it wasn't me who sent death threats to the LHC :P. My grasp of physics is much better than my limited knowledge of biology.

(P.S, about your sig, Creationists believe everything was created for them. They don't have to create anything themselves :P.)

Re:Self Replicating? (4, Insightful)

QuantumG (50515) | about 6 years ago | (#24939837)

Oh dear. It's a fat lipid with some RNA in it, not a magic eight ball. It's trivial to see exactly what would happen if this stuff was released into the environment: extinction, and likely in seconds. To work on this stuff they have to build huge clean rooms for precisely this reason.

My grasp of physics is much better than my limited knowledge of biology.

And yet you feel the need to open your mouth and proclaim doom.

Re:Self Replicating? (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | about 6 years ago | (#24939327)

Well, this [xkcd.net] always helps me feel better at dying at their hands. But you're right, its not a question of if, but rather when. But at the end of the world, I'll feel fine. To everything a time. Everything that has a beginning has an end.

So, this is what God must feel like (1)

w.p.richardson (218394) | about 6 years ago | (#24939205)

eh?

Re:So, this is what God must feel like (2, Funny)

glittalogik (837604) | about 6 years ago | (#24939869)

What, Canadian? Yeah, we knew that already, eh?

Or mabye... (1)

zappepcs (820751) | about 6 years ago | (#24939207)

They might be changed into something that could terraform Earth 2.0 ?

Lifeforms here on Earth are unlikely to be suitable for such. This could be quite interesting actually IMO.

Re:Or mabye... (1)

Abreu (173023) | about 6 years ago | (#24939293)

what's wrong with cyanobacteria?

Re:Or mabye... (1)

bugnuts (94678) | about 6 years ago | (#24939403)

Khaaaan!!!!!!

(I had to tag that....)

because... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24939217)

life grown in a test tube environment is SOOO well adapted to a planet where other forms of life have fought a life and death battle for SIX BILLION YEARS.

Interesting work (1, Interesting)

CrazyJim1 (809850) | about 6 years ago | (#24939249)

I think many people should be doing this because it is similar to the Star Trek theory that life could come out in Silicon or something we do not know it as. Of course, I think science should also try and database as many species as it can especially since many species are dying off before they're being cataloged. We should strive to know all the viable lifeforms possible even if they're extinct or not a species yet. I think this is one of the reasons why SciFi and Fantasy books and games are so fun, to see what it is like interacting with different life forms.

As for the impact this has on people's belief on God. Personally, I know God exists, and it wouldn't shake my faith even if people start printing out lifeforms from their computer. Maybe I'll find people trying to reason away God more annoying, but it isn't my place to judge.

Re:Interesting work (2, Interesting)

jmpeax (936370) | about 6 years ago | (#24939409)

Personally, I know God exists

Out of interest, how do you rationalise something other than God creating life?

I ask because I noticed on the page your sig links to you write "the Bible is God's infallible word, and that he guided the translators perfectly to copy it." From the Bible:

God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves

Re:Interesting work (1)

jgarra23 (1109651) | about 6 years ago | (#24939541)


I ask because I noticed on the page your sig links to you write "the Bible is God's infallible word, and that he guided the translators perfectly to copy it." From the Bible:

God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves

This is really for GP but I would like to know which translators he/she is speaking of. Since there are quite a few different translators and many disagree with each other- making such a general claim (at a glance mind you) sounds to me like an attempt at deception.

Re:Interesting work (1)

Idiomatick (976696) | about 6 years ago | (#24939781)

You would think the sea monsters would come into question first. And if you read his post he mentioned he didn't like people reasoning away god. So i dont think any reasonable logical argument will help.

Questions about Creationism? (5, Funny)

thefolkmetal (970306) | about 6 years ago | (#24939263)

That seems slightly ironic in this particular case, simply because these protocells were "created" by this Jack fellow. I don't believe in Jack.

Re:Questions about Creationism? (2, Insightful)

religious freak (1005821) | about 6 years ago | (#24939311)

Well, just pick up the phone and call him then :)

Re:Questions about Creationism? (4, Funny)

the_humeister (922869) | about 6 years ago | (#24939339)

But Jack believes in you. We should all be grateful for his holiness, Jack. I pray to Jack every night and sometimes wonder if He hears my prayers? Well, Jack works in mysterious ways...

Re:Questions about Creationism? (2, Funny)

jgarra23 (1109651) | about 6 years ago | (#24939577)

Do you ever tell Jack off?

Re:Questions about Creationism? (1)

aliquis (678370) | about 6 years ago | (#24939865)

First rule of jack club: You don't talk about jack off.

Re:Questions about Creationism? (3, Funny)

nawcom (941663) | about 6 years ago | (#24939741)

Hey! at least Jack has a damn answering machine. Way better than the 20 something other gods and goddesses out there who won't even effectively manage all of the prayers... I'd rather burn for eternity rather than serving some person who is out of date by a good amount of decades when it comes to telecommunications.

Re:Questions about Creationism? (2, Funny)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 6 years ago | (#24939809)

Well hello Mister Fancypants. Well, I've got news for you pal, you ain't leadin' but two things, right now: Jack and shit... and Jack just left town.

Re:Questions about Creationism? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24939667)

Well you don't know Jack! (say it with emphasis on the Jack)

Re:Questions about Creationism? (0, Flamebait)

aliquis (678370) | about 6 years ago | (#24939735)

Yeah, I don't get that line either, this creates questions about creationism HOW?!

Sure life may evolve into being able to create more life, but what the fuck does that have to do with creationism? There is no fucking proofs or anything pointing for that religious bullshit, how could this possible make some made up story about the invisible, never possible to test, never to be observed, non-existant piece of bullshit true or worth discussing at all!?!

Stupid fuck who submitted this story. There is no questions about creationism, there is nothing to be discussed, there is no topic whatsoever.

Intelligent design (0, Troll)

suck_burners_rice (1258684) | about 6 years ago | (#24939275)

If this experiment is successful, it will finally prove, once and for all, that life was not created by intelligent design. How will it prove that? Well, if an intelligent being (the aforementioned biologist) succeeds in creating a life form, then it follows, logically, that the life form he creates is not the result of the work of an intelligent being. It's simple logic, and any idiot can see that.

Incidentally, all the generations that came before ours thought that life came from some intelligent being, but they were all stupid because they didn't live in the enlightened world that we live in today. There were no cars, computers, airplanes, and other technologies. They didn't have the Internet or Wikipedia. Thus, they were stupid. Today, we're much smarter than that and we know better than to believe in such nonsense.

Re:Intelligent design (1)

moderatorrater (1095745) | about 6 years ago | (#24939335)

the life form he creates is not the result of the work of an intelligent being

I wouldn't say that to his face.

Incidentally, all the generations that came before ours thought that life came from some intelligent being, but they were all stupid because they didn't live in the enlightened world that we live in today. There were no cars, computers, airplanes, and other technologies. They didn't have the Internet or Wikipedia. Thus, they were stupid. Today, we're much smarter than that and we know better than to believe in such nonsense.

What an awesome troll. I was going to actually respond, but then I realized that your post discredits itself rather well :D

This neither confirms nor denies any religious beliefs. If your religious beliefs rely on science not being able to do something, then you're almost certainly going to be shown to be wrong.

Re:Intelligent design (1)

religious freak (1005821) | about 6 years ago | (#24939337)

It's a shame I share your conclusions when your thinking is so fundamentally flawed.

You should look up the word 'logic' in a dictionary.

Re:Intelligent design (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24939361)

Today, we're much smarter than that and we know better than to believe in such nonsense.

      You speak as if you personally have invented "cars, computers, airplanes and other technologies". I submit that you are just as stupid as your ancestors.

Re:Intelligent design (1)

Legion_SB (1300215) | about 6 years ago | (#24939481)

Well, if an intelligent being (the aforementioned biologist) succeeds in creating a life form, then it follows, logically, that the life form he creates is not the result of the work of an intelligent being. It's simple logic, and any idiot can see that.

Exactly! It's like, last week I made a burrito, and I'm white. Then it follows that all burritos made before me must have been created by white people too. The stupid "burritos came from Mexicans" theory will be dead in the water. Finally, no more Mexationists.

Re:Intelligent design (0, Offtopic)

QuantumG (50515) | about 6 years ago | (#24939519)

Awesome sarcasm +1.

Seeing as we're having the inevitable Intelligent Design conversation (I'd much rather be discussing how we can use the awesome power of nanotechnology to change the world, but hey), I guess I should discuss my sig.

Why are all Creationists so uncreative? They don't seem to have any opinions of their own, they just regurgitate whatever they've been told. Are we to believe "it looks like someone made it" is the best argument they can come up with? Or maybe the "random chance couldn't have made life" argument? Any reasonably intelligent person who knows a few things about evolution can come up with some examples of predictions that are made by the theory and yet are just not true, and yet this kind of legitimate scientific objection isn't even entertained by the Creationist and Intelligent Design mob.

Let me give you a few examples:

* Why are chicken eggs so tasty? Animals have been stealing eggs from birds for millions of years, shouldn't they have evolved some non-tasty additives by now?
* Iron is an essential part of metabolism. Brains and nervous systems are basically electrical systems. Some animals even have a compass. So why do no animals have radios? Not even primitive ones.
* Impressive results have been seen in modeling evolution - for example, genetic algorithms - but all of these systems plateau after a certain amount of runtime. This is the so called "local maxima" problem. Yet biologists claim with a straight face that Darwinian evolution is open ended.
* Horizontal gene transfer has been observed in the lab between multi-cellular organisms.. doesn't this just completely blow away the traditionalist "tree of life" assumption?

and I could go on, and on and on. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a Creationist.. but if I can think this stuff up, how come all I ever hear from the Intelligent Design people is the same tired old bunk?

Put some effort in crackpots, you're boring me.

Re:Intelligent design (2, Insightful)

pikine (771084) | about 6 years ago | (#24939771)

It is evident that evolution must be taught in school, not as an objective truth, but so people will learn it enough to find flaws in it. However, many schools teach evolution as if it's the Ten Commandments, which should never be the way science is taught.

Re:Intelligent design (1)

drsmithy (35869) | about 6 years ago | (#24939831)

Why are chicken eggs so tasty? Animals have been stealing eggs from birds for millions of years, shouldn't they have evolved some non-tasty additives by now?

How do you propose a non-tasty egg reproduce to pass on its non-tasty genes, given its tastiness is unknown until reproduction is impossible ?

(Personally, I wouldn't say eggs are "tasty" though. They usually need something else with them...)

Iron is an essential part of metabolism. Brains and nervous systems are basically electrical systems. Some animals even have a compass. So why do no animals have radios? Not even primitive ones.

Passive vs active interaction.

Impressive results have been seen in modeling evolution - for example, genetic algorithms - but all of these systems plateau after a certain amount of runtime. This is the so called "local maxima" problem. Yet biologists claim with a straight face that Darwinian evolution is open ended.

I'll have to leave this one for someone more knowledgable in genetics than I.

Horizontal gene transfer has been observed in the lab between multi-cellular organisms.. doesn't this just completely blow away the traditionalist "tree of life" assumption?

In what way is reviewing an assumption in the face of new evidence a problem with a scientific theory ?

Re:Intelligent design (-1, Troll)

QuantumG (50515) | about 6 years ago | (#24939881)

You're an idiot. Seriously.

I wasn't making an argument against evolution.. I was suggesting some remotely sensible arguments against evolution and asking why people who are against evolution never come up with anything similar.

And I guess you just answered my question, there's idiots on both sides of the debate who drown out the people with anything sensible to say.

Re:Intelligent design (1)

Ginger Unicorn (952287) | about 6 years ago | (#24939853)

i think the goal of most of the more vocal book-publishing creationists is to convince the layman there are obvious "common sense" contradictions that kill evolution stone dead in its tracks.

anything more subtle and technical is a waste of time, as we see when creationists make more specific rigorously defined claims that are consistently shredded by informed rebuttals from the only audience that could even appreciate any significance in what they are trying to say.

Re:Intelligent design (1)

jmpeax (936370) | about 6 years ago | (#24939523)

Parent is being sarcastic and implying that because as intelligent beings, if we create life, it is evidence that ID is correct.

Your argument is based on a logical fallacy [wikipedia.org] : just because one life form was created by an intelligent being, it doesn't mean that all life forms were created by intelligent beings.

they were all stupid [...] Today, we're much smarter than that

Oh! The irony!

Re:Intelligent design (1)

mcsporran (832624) | about 6 years ago | (#24939559)

The word you are looking for is ignorant, and is often due to a lack of access to knowledge.
To be stupid you have to ignore, deny and/or not study the current knowledge of the topic.
The world is far from enlightened, and one of the reasons for this, is Creationist Stupidity.

Re:Intelligent design (1)

timmarhy (659436) | about 6 years ago | (#24939607)

Your side is the one calling creationism "intelligent design" in an attempt to legitimise it. we've never said it's impossible to design or create life, merely that a big man from the sky didn't do it in seven days 6000 years ago and that the animals didn't start out as they are today.

Re:Intelligent design (1)

suck_burners_rice (1258684) | about 6 years ago | (#24939855)

a big man from the sky didn't do it in seven days 6000 years ago

Are you sure about that? I have proof it did happen that way -- in writing. It's all there, black and white, clear as crystal.

Let me guess... (4, Funny)

not already in use (972294) | about 6 years ago | (#24939277)

He tried to create a phallic looking creature.

Re:Let me guess... (1)

Aussenseiter (1241842) | about 6 years ago | (#24939331)

And soon the world will be flooded with them!

... Someone call Japan.

Re:Let me guess... (2, Informative)

hotdiggitydawg (881316) | about 6 years ago | (#24939427)

He tried to create a phallic looking creature.

Just in case anyone doesn't get it [ctrlaltdel-online.com] ...

What questions exactly? (4, Interesting)

Itninja (937614) | about 6 years ago | (#24939279)

This obviously raises some questions about creationism..

Since the scientist did the (almost) creating here, what questions would this raise? Now if the (almost) alive protocells had popped into existence by random chance and from a void of nothingness, that would raise some uncomfortable questions.

Re:What questions exactly? (1)

religious freak (1005821) | about 6 years ago | (#24939365)

Um, absolutely none. If he managed to create the actual organic molecules, the atoms in those molecules, the quarks, (presumably) the strings, and the fundamental forces governing those physical objects, then there would be some uncomfortable questions. But I'm not holding my breath for that day.

Re:What questions exactly? (1)

naoursla (99850) | about 6 years ago | (#24939521)

It might raise some uncomfortable questions for creationists. There is little that science can do to shake the faith of those of us who believe in God and study science.

Tricky, uncomfortable and assumption-challenging questions arising from science are to be considered a success. Again... very little to do with theology.

Re:What questions exactly? (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about 6 years ago | (#24939723)

It might raise some uncomfortable questions for creationists. There is little that science can do to shake the faith of those of us who believe in God and study science.

I don't think your getting the big picture. If someone is playing god by manipulating something, what does that say about life being created? Nothing... If it happened naturally, then that's a little different.

If it makes creationist uncomfortable, it would be because someone is playing god and of the fear of what can happen. In other words, it would be the same reasons others would be uncomfortable about it.

Tricky, uncomfortable and assumption-challenging questions arising from science are to be considered a success. Again... very little to do with theology.

Your right, very little at all. Because the reality of the situation is that a creator attempted to create something and almost succeeded. I understand how almost doing something could be a success, I understand how people can confuse this. But it doesn't do anything to creationists outside of your minds. It is almost as if in some demented and out of touch way, people are saying "take that religion" and doing science with only that in mind which is the farthest from what science is about. I'm having a hard time watching all the perversions of science and actually believing that creditable work is being done. If overstating a case was a crime, quite a few people would be in serious trouble here.

Re:What questions exactly? (1)

smussman (1160103) | about 6 years ago | (#24939843)

It might raise some uncomfortable questions for creationists.

No more than the fact that we weren't/haven't been able to create life raised uncomfortable questions for evolutionists. Which is to say, not at all.

Re:What questions exactly? (1)

Renraku (518261) | about 6 years ago | (#24939399)

Questions?

How to make what he created better?
How to make the technology viable to the military?
How to make the technology profitable?

The second part sounds a lot more like a function of quantum mechanics than it does religion. God wouldn't be so obvious if they were trying to remain incognito.

Re:What questions exactly? (5, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 6 years ago | (#24939487)

Since the scientist did the (almost) creating here, what questions would this raise? Now if the (almost) alive protocells had popped into existence by random chance and from a void of nothingness, that would raise some uncomfortable questions.

Because it would show that life can be created from basic non-living components using simple chemical reactions, and that it didn't require some magical "zap" from heaven to do it? Yes, in this case it would be a scientist doing it intentionally, rather than it occurring by chance in the primordial soup, but it shows that in principle it is possible. At that point you would have a pretty solid theory of abiogenesis if you can show that earth had in the distant past these basic components and sufficient energy to cause the necessary reactions, and then just like with evolution you have millions of years and trillions of molecules to handle the "chance" part.

Re:What questions exactly? (3, Insightful)

Eil (82413) | about 6 years ago | (#24939875)

Because it would show that life can be created from basic non-living components using simple chemical reactions, and that it didn't require some magical "zap" from heaven to do it?

I don't foresee this causing any problems because (to my knowledge) the bible says "God created life," not "Only God can create life."

Of course, I've been wrong before.

Re:What questions exactly? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24939599)

How can someone have questions about creationism with Sarah Palin around? Our PILF is the proof that God created the universe and also decided to kill Saddam Hussein by sending our boys over there to do the job! Quit questioning! Sarah Palin is hot!

Re:What questions exactly? (4, Interesting)

lawpoop (604919) | about 6 years ago | (#24939619)

I'll tell you what questions this "raises" -- but prepare to be dissapointed. I had a high-school science teacher, who was a great teacher, but was a creationist. Yes, he really was a great science teacher. He spent half a class one day explaining "questions"* about cosmology and creationism. He didn't proselytize, didn't say that he had the answers, or that the Bible did. He just asked some questions that got the students thinking. IMHO, I think that's good -- though questions early on are like inoculations of skepticism. And, there are good, scientific answers that sufficiently motivated students looked up ( this was before widespread internet)

Anywho, one of the questions was something like "Suppose a scientist creates life from scratch in a test tube. Is that evidence of abiogenesis, or creationism?" One answer, that most scientifically minded people choose, is that the scientist isn't doing anything that couldn't have happened in nature without the scientist, so therefore it's evidence of abiogenesis. Other people, those more creation minded, say that an intelligent being, in this case a scientist, created life from raw materials, so therefore, its evidence that life is created by intelligence.

Please, don't shoot, I'm just the messenger. You're asking what questions would be raised, I'm telling you the questions that people get out of this.

* He also posed another question about radiometric dating of rocks that I never got a satisfactory answer for. For instance, say they date some rocks, and there is 0.03% lead to uranium, or some such ratio, and therefor the rock is X million years old. How do we know that when the rock was originally formed, it was 100% uranium in the sample that we are now taking from the rock? If a rock cools from molten lava, aren't active and decayed isotopes mixed together, thus throwing off the dating scales based on that ratio?

Re:What questions exactly? (5, Insightful)

jfengel (409917) | about 6 years ago | (#24939737)

The trick with uranium dating is that when zircon crystals form, uranium is trapped but lead is excluded. So you know that all of the lead was created AFTER the crystal formed.

This is cross-checked against other forms of dating, too.

The disappointing thing is that your science teacher was spreading doubt on the subject when the answers were out there to be found. When a vast number of scientists say it's true, "I don't think it's right" is not a valid answer unless you've got a PhD. He may not have been spreading religion, but he was spreading doubt about a well-founded science, as if the scientists themselves were ignorant of it. They are not, and it's extremely bad form to imply that they are.

Re:What questions exactly? (5, Insightful)

lawpoop (604919) | about 6 years ago | (#24939923)

Thanks for the answer. I'd always wondered about that one.

The disappointing thing is that your science teacher was spreading doubt on the subject when the answers were out there to be found. When a vast number of scientists say it's true, "I don't think it's right" is not a valid answer unless you've got a PhD. He may not have been spreading religion, but he was spreading doubt about a well-founded science, as if the scientists themselves were ignorant of it. They are not, and it's extremely bad form to imply that they are.

I'm a scientifically-minded skeptic, but I gotta say I disagree with you 100% here. I think that the essence of science is doubt, skepticism, and inquiry. These theories are not so fragile that we have to protect them with a shield of awe. If the science is well-founded, then it should be able to clear these hurdles easily. It should be able to withstand the most withering lines of inquiry -- And it does.

If you teach kids to blindly accept what "the authorities" tell you, whether those authorities are the Bible, or well-respected grey-bearded scientists, then you will get adults who accept whatever the authorities tell them -- in other words, people who can't be scientists, because they don't know how to think for themselves, and therefore can't use the scientific method.

When we teach science, we shouldn't say "Believe this because a bunch of scientists believe in it!". Instead, we should teach them to ask questions, develop a hypothesis, and think about ways to prove or disprove it. When they're old enough, they should be doing experiements. Think, ask questions, make observations, and do experiments to test your theories. That is science, not the consensus of elites.

Re:What questions exactly? (1)

mcsporran (832624) | about 6 years ago | (#24939635)

There is only one Creationist question

Do you believe in fairy tales ?

Re:What questions exactly? (1)

JohnyDog (129809) | about 6 years ago | (#24939645)

Since the scientist did the (almost) creating here, what questions would this raise?
The biggest question of all ages: Given that God created all life as we know it, and that this scientist also created life, would you like a toasted tea-cake? [youtube.com]

Re:What questions exactly? (1)

Greyfox (87712) | about 6 years ago | (#24939687)

One would be "What exactly can your God do that we can't?"

We have harnessed lightning to do our will.
We can inflict a plague upon our enemies.
We can fly faster and farther than any bird.
We can strike a man dead from a huge distance.
We have unleashed the power of the sun, burning our enemies from the earth.

Once we check "Create life" off our checklist, our resume will look pretty similar to His.

Creationism? (1)

Anachragnome (1008495) | about 6 years ago | (#24939299)

"This obviously raises some questions about creationism..."

Such as?

"Maybe there is no God? We were some experiment?"

The fact that life may be "creatable" does NOT infer that WE were. At least not at the hands of "gods" or other lifeforms.

Re:Creationism? (1)

moderatorrater (1095745) | about 6 years ago | (#24939567)

Actually, I believe that they were talking about how it might shake some creationist theories because so much religious belief is based on the idea that science can't explain and do everything. Showing that lifeforms can be created in the lab can lead to discoveries that show that life could be created through natural processes that existed in the primordial goo. In other words, this could be a fundamental step in showing how evolution could have happened.

The fact that life may be "creatable" does NOT imply that WE were created

There, fixed that for you. I guarantee that if science continues to develop the way that it is, then at some point in the future a scientist will be able to create an organism as intelligent and complex as a human being. We're approaching that with computers (although we're still quite far away).

Re:Creationism? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24939699)

Actually, I believe that they were talking about how it might shake some creationist theories because so much religious belief is based on the idea that science can't explain and do everything. Showing that lifeforms can be created in the lab can lead to discoveries that show that life could be created through natural processes that existed in the primordial goo. In other words, this could be a fundamental step in showing how evolution could have happened.

The fact that life may be "creatable" does NOT imply that WE were created

There, fixed that for you. I guarantee that if science continues to develop the way that it is, then at some point in the future a scientist will be able to create an organism as intelligent and complex as a human being. We're approaching that with computers (although we're still quite far away).

"then at some point in the future a scientist will be able to create an organism as intelligent and complex as a human being"

Even non-scientists can do that now. It's called "sex".

Re:Creationism? (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about 6 years ago | (#24939773)

I think they were going for the "we don't need a god" aspect not the it means "we needed a god or creator".

I know how this can be confused, it is a weak argument at best and it isn't directly obvious without inferring some resentment purposely aimed at religions.

Re:Creationism? (2, Interesting)

nawcom (941663) | about 6 years ago | (#24939841)

"This obviously raises some questions about creationism..."

Such as?

"Maybe there is no God? We were some experiment?"

The fact that life may be "creatable" does NOT infer that WE were. At least not at the hands of "gods" or other lifeforms.

Remember - Creationists do not accept questions - only answers, and answers that agree with what their parents told them.

They aren't supposed to question their god, for it's considered an unforgivable sin.

Personally, I believe (yes, an atheist with a belief) that the day humans stop questioning everything is the day that science, technology, and discovery will halt. These people, like Jack Szostak, are questioning life. "God" isn't an acceptable answer.

Do you hear that, sonny? (3, Funny)

jcwayne (995747) | about 6 years ago | (#24939307)

That's the sound of 100,000 /.ers trying to come up with the perfect obscure movie reference. We'd better get out of here before it gets ugly.

Too late...

Church of the White Coat (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24939323)

Shortly after their creation the cells formed a new religion declaring their white coated man God. Also that their world/petri dish was in fact flat and that on Sunday their God did in fact rest/got drunk and watched football.

Man (Almost) Bites Dog (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24939385)

The dog was actually corn on the cob, but the implications for future man-dog relations are staggering.

Artificial Life (1)

kilodelta (843627) | about 6 years ago | (#24939421)

I was just reading about this in The Living Cosmos by Chris Impey. Very good book btw, worth checking out from the library or even buying.

I'm glad Szostak is doing this though, it starts to fill in the gab on how cellular life started.

Get your own dirt! (4, Insightful)

umrguy76 (114837) | about 6 years ago | (#24939423)

This reminds me of a joke:

One day a group of scientists got together and decided that man had come a long way and no longer needed God. So they picked one scientist to go and tell Him that they were done with Him.

The scientist walked up to God and said, "God, we've decided that we no longer need you. We're to the point that we can clone people and do many miraculous things, so why don't you just go on and get lost."

God listened very patiently and kindly to the man and after the scientist was done talking, God said, "Very well, how about this, let's say we have a man making contest." To which the scientist replied, "OK, great!"

But God added, "Now, we're going to do this just like I did back in the old days with Adam."

The scientist said, "Sure, no problem" and bent down and grabbed himself a handful of dirt.

God just looked at him and said, "No, no, no. You go get your own dirt!"

Re:Get your own dirt! (0, Offtopic)

Butisol (994224) | about 6 years ago | (#24939489)

Thanks for the stupid pulpit joke.

Re:Get your own dirt! (1)

Rie Beam (632299) | about 6 years ago | (#24939491)

So God's role has been relegated to making dirt?

That's kinda boring.

Re:Get your own dirt! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24939617)

Boring maybe, until you try making some, out of... well, out of nothing.

And re the article: Whence came the snippet of source code allowing for replication? Whence came the programming LANGUAGE that allowed the source code to mean anything besides random gibberish? Good programming doesn't write itself.

Higgs Again (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 6 years ago | (#24939433)

Just like the guys who keep ALMOST finding Higgs Boson. They should award an Almost Nobel. (I've qualified for the Almost Darwin Prize a few times as a teen. I don't know why I let them talk me into blindfolded skateboarding.)

Re:Higgs Again (2, Funny)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 6 years ago | (#24939509)

"Attempted murder, now honestly, what is that? Do they give a Nobel Prize for attempted chemistry?"

- Sideshow Bob.

Questions? (1)

jawtheshark (198669) | about 6 years ago | (#24939447)

This obviously raises some questions about creationism

There were questions about creationism? I mean, despite all the facts that say it can't be true. Mmmmmkay...

Self-replication and solar energy-harnessing (1)

phorm (591458) | about 6 years ago | (#24939525)

Combined with a process that harnesses external energy from the sun or chemical reactions, they could form a self-replicating...

I'm no bioscientist, but could this project be modified to something which harvests energy from the sun and then can discharge it in a was in which electrical or bio-mechanical energy could be generated?

This Raises Questions! (1)

Rie Beam (632299) | about 6 years ago | (#24939537)

"This obviously raises some questions about creationism, not to mention some scary bio-research-gone-wild scenarios."

For the sake of brevity, we will not, however, be listing these questions here.

I have one of these (2, Funny)

gregbot9000 (1293772) | about 6 years ago | (#24939555)

Combined with a process that harnesses external energy from the sun or chemical reactions, they could form a self-replicating, evolving system

It's called a Lava Lamp.

We call it... (1)

specific_pacific (904746) | about 6 years ago | (#24939557)

Voight-Kampff for short.

Re:We call it... (1)

thermian (1267986) | about 6 years ago | (#24939637)

Voight-Kampff for short.

Sadly, it appears few people got the reference.

I worry for the geeks of today, I really do. I mean, you'd think Daryl Hanna in a leotard would be enough reason to watch the film, if nothing else..

I guess also reading the book would too much...

Almost? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24939565)

Saying "biologist (almost) creates artificial life" is like sating "slashdotter (almost) gets a date"... it could be completely meaningless.

FAIL ZORS! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24939575)

Umm. What? (5, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 6 years ago | (#24939595)

Why does this raise any questions about creationism? To the best of my knowledge, there are essentially no creationists who argue that life was created by humans or any other intelligent organisms(unless they are squirming around on the stand, trying to avoid the establishment clause). And nothing in any current evolutionary hypothesis precludes artificially constructed organisms any more than they preclude artificially constructed computers and hammers. The fact that we can, almost, produce simple organism analogs doesn't mean anything one way or the other, though I suspect that it will be a very convenient mechanism for exploring the capabilities of (relatively) low complexity structures, and will provide the opportunity to do evolutionary experiments from well defined baselines.

As for the bioresearch gone wild scenarios: all advances in knowledge create the potential for trouble; but I suspect that it will be quite some time before any synthetic organism becomes much of a threat. The world outside is an incredible hostile place, crawling with microbes that have been slitting each others' throats in innumerable horrid ways for millennia. The interaction will be something like this:

[Synthetic wimp organism]:"Hi, I'm synthetic."
[Hardbitten wild bacterium]:"I fucking killed my own family over a nanogram of glucose."
[SWO]:*gulp*
[HWB]:"Hey, look, one of the thousands of antibiotic compounds secreted by fungi as part of the brutal chemical war of all against all."
[SWO]:*Dies horribly*

Says nothing about creationism (1, Interesting)

phonicsmonkey (984955) | about 6 years ago | (#24939605)

Creationism is based on faith, not arguments. Mountains of proof are enough to convince those who believe in what they wish were true, rather in what the evidence suggests.

Re:Says nothing about creationism (2, Insightful)

c_forq (924234) | about 6 years ago | (#24939759)

What exactly are the mountains of proof regarding the origin of the universe? I would most thoroughly enjoy reading about what caused the big bang, how the initial conditions came to be, and then fast forward to how living matter came into existence from non-living matter (probable conjecture will even do, as long as it has plenty of relevant research cited). This isn't evolution we are talking about (and even if it were, creation is not necessarily against evolution, kind of like how not all rectangles are squares).

To all worried about "grey goo"... (4, Insightful)

rdwald (831442) | about 6 years ago | (#24939609)

Recall that bacteria have had around 4 billion years to turn Earth into a nanopocalyptic wasteland. Sure, they're everywhere, but they aren't dismantling everything else for parts. If this were a real risk, it would already have happened.

'Almost alive' is fairly generous (2, Insightful)

Kurofuneparry (1360993) | about 6 years ago | (#24939613)

As a biochemist I'm surprised with the 'almost alive' statement in the article: they're still a long way to go. However, the work they are doing is interesting and is proof-of-concept for many elements of the RNA-world theory. I, like others, am surprised by the 'questions about creationism'. This show improper bias where this article doesn't approach creationism, but rather supports the validity of the evolutionary origin theory. The author has assumed that origin is a zero-sum game, and this is flawed and biased logic.

Insane (1)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | about 6 years ago | (#24939641)

Whenever I start contemplating DNA (!), self-reproduction and the utter insanity of how complex the machinery of a single cell is, much less multicellular life, much less an animal, much less a self-aware brain, I just shake my head in wonder. There can only be one conclusion, really.

No, not God, that's utterly absurd. No, the conclusion is that life is really, really, really, REALLY unlikely. That's the answer to the Fermi Paradox. We are utterly unique, and I suspect that intelligent life is so improbable, that it requires 1e85th power cycles of the universe(s) for it to happen *once*. Of course, we have no idea how much "time" has passed since the last time it happened. We just wake up as a species and assume it must be happening everywhere.

Really, just contemplating the whole idea of DNA when it's really just a wet, sloppy pile of chemicals blows my mind.

Re:Insane (1)

domatic (1128127) | about 6 years ago | (#24939793)

Really, just contemplating the whole idea of DNA when it's really just a wet, sloppy pile of chemicals blows my mind.

Maybe that's the problem "everybody else" has with us:

http://baetzler.de/humor/meat_beings.html [baetzler.de]

You know its coming... (1)

ZosX (517789) | about 6 years ago | (#24939651)

And I, for one, welcome our new artificial protocell overlords.

Got a bridge to sell you too!!!! (1)

gsgriffin (1195771) | about 6 years ago | (#24939719)

Look at this carefully. He is mixing ingredients...not creating anything. He is using "source code" from something else. There is no way he is going to create DNA or recreate the processes that each living cell goes through without stealing from something else. Let's get real and past the hype. He's trying to get headlines somewhere from people that are willing to get excited. Every heard of the car that runs on water!!!!

Science is scary (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24939763)

We have to stop these mad scientists before they destroy the earth with their Large Hadron Colliders or create some sort of sentient goo [egscomics.com] that could destroy us all!

Arrrrgh! Run away!

Yeah, I'm being silly. Mod me down.

bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24939795)

give me cells that reproduce and evolve and demonstrate that and then you'll raise questions about creationism. Otherwise you're just showing how desperate you are to disbelieve.

now the question is (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#24939799)

will their self replicating code be open source?

20-something Kelly LeBrock (1)

syousef (465911) | about 6 years ago | (#24939903)

Call me when he can create an 20-something Kelly LeBrock [imdb.com] and I'll be more interested.

(Disclaimer: Actually I find this kind of science fascinating, but that doesn't aid in making a joke)

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