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A Step Closer to Creating Artificial Life

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 6 years ago | from the absolutely-glowing-with-happiness dept.

Biotech 109

slick_shoes writes to mention that Italian researcher Giovanni Murtas has taken another step towards creating life in a test tube. "To the untrained eye, the tiny, misshapen, fatty blobs on Giovanni Murtas's microscope slide would not look very impressive. But when the Italian scientist saw their telltale green fluorescent glint he knew he had achieved something remarkable — and taken a vital step towards building a living organism from scratch. The green glow was proof that his fragile creations were capable of making their own proteins, a crucial ability of all living things and vital for carrying out all other aspects of life."

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My recipe for artificial life! (4, Funny)

tjstork (137384) | more than 6 years ago | (#20519655)

I create artificial life with a 12 pack of Genny Cream Ales and a Dominos Pizza!

Re:My recipe for artificial life! (1)

Racemaniac (1099281) | more than 6 years ago | (#20519677)

i was rather thinking in the direction of a pc, and a WOW account

Re:My recipe for artificial life! (1)

ockegheim (808089) | more than 6 years ago | (#20520633)

Fine as long as it's not a RetNub pally. Human only according to Blizzard.

Re:My recipe for artificial life! (1)

bilabrin (1127623) | more than 6 years ago | (#20524771)

Simpsons did it!

Anybody inform... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20519671)

project Wildfire yet ? There is a fire [wikipedia.org] ...

A Matrix-like movie is coming... (1)

lems1 (163074) | more than 6 years ago | (#20519687)

Yep. These are the kinds of things that inspire people to make movies.

But wait, isn't this the same subject they use over and over... Scratch that.

Re:A Matrix-like movie is coming... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20520527)

But wait, isn't this the same subject they use over and over... Scratch that.
Yeah, because the film industry *never* reuses story ideas.

Great, exciting and all, but ... (-1, Offtopic)

jopet (538074) | more than 6 years ago | (#20519701)

I wish more people would invest their intelligence into how to protect the life forms (and that includes everything from slimy single-cell organisms to snow tigers) on this globe that are already there. Nobody will be able to bring them back, ever, after they are gone. And many of them are disappearing, probably most of them unnoticed.

Re:Great, exciting and all, but ... (5, Insightful)

Grr (15821) | more than 6 years ago | (#20519745)

If this technique (as mentioned in the article) can be used to artificially create fuel it can eliminate oilspills, because fuel can be produced where it is needed. Saves lots of coastal birds.
If this can be used to create artificial meat (now I'm extrapolating) there's no more need to have hurdes of hamburgers grazing away at acres of former rainforest. Saves many of those endangered but unknown species you're talking about. Maybe it can even be used to grow artifical hardwood.

Sounds to me this is exactly the sort of research that eliminates the impact of human consumption on the environment by making it more efficient.

Re:Great, exciting and all, but ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20520529)

If this can be used to create artificial meat
Ever heard about "belgian blue"?

Belgian Blue!? (3, Funny)

joshzweig (1106205) | more than 6 years ago | (#20521509)

Real men eat soylent green.

Re:Great, exciting and all, but ... (1)

ReclusiveGeek (1115223) | more than 6 years ago | (#20521917)

you used the word "efficient", but did you mean "sustainable"? I'd totally agree with your line of thinking. if us humans, at least in the developed parts of the world, can ever shake the use-once-and-toss mentality we'd be a lot better off for it.

Re:Great, exciting and all, but ... (1)

Grr (15821) | more than 6 years ago | (#20523997)

Well I did use some words carelessly, but efficient is more or less what I meant: Less (negative) effect per person. You're right in saying that sustainable is still a way off from that and I did skip over that. Mostly I'm afraid that more efficient per person means more room for persons, ending up with the same total result before tragedies like war, disease and starvation regulate the population again. The OP is right in that sense, because no engineering solution, except maybe faster than light travel, can avoid that pitfall. If any social, political or other solution can go against nature like that is something I am skeptical about. In the meantime technical solutions keep us ahead of the curve. They buy us time and save some of the more vulnerable species until we figure it out.

Re:Great, exciting and all, but ... (1)

BungaDunga (801391) | more than 6 years ago | (#20523949)

Cue bio-spills, accidentally dumping tonnages of engineered life into the ocean. Chances are it would be quickly eaten up by local life, as it was engineered to do something very specific and is likely nowhere near as "fit" as evolved life to live outside of otherwise sterile vats of goo. Still, who knows what a mutant strain of human-created life could do.

Re:Great, exciting and all, but ... (1)

Z80a (971949) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526419)

er... the cows are on south of brazil,not north

most rainforest damage is to sell the rare kinds of wood that you can find there,but you probably can "grow" any kind of wood by using that artificial creatures that way too.

Re:Great, exciting and all, but ... (0, Flamebait)

revengebomber (1080189) | more than 6 years ago | (#20519813)

Hey! It's called natural selection, and it's been going on for millions of years. Who cares if a species dies out? And don't give me that bull about finding "natural cures" in some substance produced by some obscure plant in the Amazon; that happens infrequently enough that your time is better spent on scientific research than random wilderness hunts. Bottom line is, life moves on. Or at least most of it does.

Re:Great, exciting and all, but ... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20520245)

Great idea fucktard, now go do as Mr. Hands did and earn yourself a Darwin Award.

Re:Great, exciting and all, but ... (2, Insightful)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 6 years ago | (#20520645)

Hey! It's called natural selection, and it's been going on for millions of years.

Natural selection, damn right, more like mass extinction. Calling it natural selection would be like saying that the dinosaurs died due to natural selection. Plus, how is that natural selection when elephants are getting killed for their ivory? If that's natural selection than I guess genocides are natural selection too and so maybe jews and darfurians are unfit to live on Earth..

Life moves on indeed!

Re:Great, exciting and all, but ... (4, Insightful)

Elemenope (905108) | more than 6 years ago | (#20520711)

Well, it is Natural Selection, which only goes to show how insufficient an excuse natural selection is. Humans are a natural selection pressure force (unless you believe that we were placed here by divine or other supernatural powers...pleh) just like any other species. Humans are unlike most in that we can, if we choose, attempt to gain awareness of what our effects are, and modulate some of them with a bit of effort. That we can change things to accord to some moral conception of proper living within an ecology or not is a different issue, quite beyond the notion that it is, at base natural selection at work.

The problem here is you are identifying a normative impulse in the phrase Natural Selection (natural=good, artifical=bad...roughly) and then complaining that the normative meanings being assigned are insufficient to describe the actual moral consequences of the situation. I'd say it would be better to read "natural selection" as a descriptive term only, and take moral considerations where they belong, which is in identifying when and how human actions can be good or bad.

Re:Great, exciting and all, but ... (0)

lapagecp (914156) | more than 6 years ago | (#20521271)

The Death of the dinosarus was due to natural selection in that there environement changed and they couldn't hack it and died. If you would calm down and think about it some furry little things did survive and so by natural selection we got lots more mammals and way less dinosaurs. As for Jews and Darfurians, last time I checked they were all homo sapians. Natural selection has been kind to homo sapians, just because other homo sapians haven't been kind to those homo sapians doesn't make thier situation at all related to natural selection. As for the seals and birds that die in an oil spill, guess what natural selection. Humans are part of nature too folks and dealing with the shit that the dominent species leaves lying around is key to survival. Pigeons for instance have learned to live with us quite well as have rats. Isn't natural selection fun.

Re:Great, exciting and all, but ... (1)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 6 years ago | (#20522091)

So you're saying that us killing elephants and such one by one until there's hardly any left is natural selection, but that killing Jews doesn't make it natural selection because, according to you, Jews are humans? (heh, I love the ambiguity of this question)

Re:Great, exciting and all, but ... (1)

lapagecp (914156) | more than 6 years ago | (#20525131)

Yes thats correct. Maybe we are using different definitions for that natural selection is. I am saying that natural selection is the process by which forms of life having traits that better enable them to adapt to specific environmental pressures, as predators, changes in climate, or competition for food or mates, will tend to survive and reproduce in greater numbers than others of their kind, thus ensuring the perpetuation of those favorable traits in succeeding generations. So the elephants are not doing well against thier predators aka humans. How is that not natural selection. The persecution of the Jews could be considered a form of natural selection but it certainly not analogus to the elephant example. Elephants are a species hunted to the edge of extinction where as Jews are humans and humans are doing just fine. Can you explain to me where the ambiguity is.

Re:Great, exciting and all, but ... (1)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527807)

Maybe we are using different definitions for that natural selection is. I am saying that natural selection is the process by which forms of life blah blah blah...

Well my definition for natural selection is "Natural selection is the process by which favorable traits that are heritable become more common in successive generations of a population of reproducing organisms, and unfavorable traits that are heritable become less common." (from Wikipedia). Therefore, the extinction of an entire species is not natural selection, in other words none of what we talked about here has anything to do with natural selection.

Can you explain to me where the ambiguity is.

"according to you, Jews are humans?"

Re:Great, exciting and all, but ... (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20519817)

This new Bioshock game is pretty nice and all, but really does nothing to help those kids living with AIDS in South Africa. What the fuck.

Re:Great, exciting and all, but ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20522463)

You're just not playing it right. If you kill 50 Big Daddies using just the wrench, all the Little Sisters turn into kids living with AIDS in South Africa. Of course, the "ADAM" is replaced by the "AIDS." For each one you rescue in-game, a kid is saved in real life! I've saved the lives of over 100 kids living with AIDS in South Africa by playing Bioshock. What have YOU done?

Re:Great, exciting and all, but ... (1)

proton (56759) | more than 6 years ago | (#20519927)

actually you will probably see recently extinct species coming back in the next 50-100 years, mostly in zoos and such but they will come back because of gene-banks, cloning, artificial life and all.

I doubt we will see a jurassic park anytime soon though. but im sure eventually they will dig up dna for t-rex aswell.

Re:Great, exciting and all, but ... (5, Insightful)

gibbdog (551209) | more than 6 years ago | (#20520291)

That is a very close minded comment. By the same token I guess everybody working on computer science is wasting their time as they should be studying cancer research and trying to find a cure (and just running folding@home doesn't count).

The fact is, different people are good at different fields. Just because someone is a biologist or scientist in general does not mean that they studying all fields of biology. It is a highly specialized field with many different niches. Sure, the niches that some fill may not *seem* to be cutting edge high profile making the headlines ground breaking research. However, every bit of info that is documented may be useful someday.

And by the way... I think being able to build something from scratch is a pretty damn good way of learning out something works and how to help it.

Not really building from scratch (1)

Crazy Taco (1083423) | more than 6 years ago | (#20522523)

Reading the article, it doesn't exactly sound like anyone is truly building life from scratch. Building life from scratch would be assembling from base elements the building blocks of the cell, assmbling from base elements the walls and structure of the cell, putting it all together, and then starting up all the "machinery" and watching the cell come to life. As far as I know, no one has been able to do that, and it doesn't look like these teams are doing that either.

The top down team clearly isn't close to doing things this way, because they are taking already living cells of a simple organism that is already alive and tweaking the DNA, trying to find the minimum set of genes necessary for function.

In contrast, the bottom up team takes enzymes from already alive sells, puts them into a stripped down fatty bag cell and watches them synthesize proteins. That's hardly creating life from scratch. That's taking bits and peices from things already alive and trying to create a new organism out of them. While this technique may indeed succeed in creating a new, minimal organism, there is a large difference between taking nothing but inert, base elements from the periodic table and creating something alive and simply taking peices from other lifeforms (by definition already alive) and assembling a different organism. And there is also a large difference between having enzymes make proteins in a test tube (something that has been done before) and creating something that is alive.

We've never seen anyone truly create life from scratch, and I don't think we are particularly close to that, if it would ever even happen. I think most of this "I've created new life in a test tube!" stuff is propoganda from scientists to gain more funding. Saying "I've created life in a test tube!" tends to sound better and garner more funds than saying "I've tweaked existing life in a test tube!", which is what has actually occurred here.

Re:Great, exciting and all, but ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20521235)

Man (in his current form) will die soon enough, and then new life forms will come along. It's not like the SUV-driving, McDonalds & Starbucks eating, petrol-dependant society can continue forever. Our days are numbered.

Re:Great, exciting and all, but ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20521719)

I doubt it. Mankind will find a way to keep our prosperous energy-dependant societies going strong.

Re:Great, exciting and all, but ... (2, Interesting)

Tomthemage (999375) | more than 6 years ago | (#20521455)

I for one am glad people don't spend more time trying to preserve nature. "The balance of nature" is a false term, and such a situation where everything lives in harmony simply doesn't exist. Nature is wild, crazy, unpredictable, and I honestly don't think humanity has the capability to "preserve" it. Don't believe me? Just take a look at the disaster that is Yellowstone National Park, if you don't believe me.

Re:Great, exciting and all, but ... (1)

jopet (538074) | more than 6 years ago | (#20522837)

I know about the desaster in Yellowstone National Park and I know of other failed attempts to "preserve nature". But I still think that there should be more interest in trying not to let so many species die out once and for all because we destroy ecosystems by the thousands of sqare kilometres. Not because those species are cute and furry, but because we will need them and the ecosystem they make up, deseperately, one day.

Re:Great, exciting and all, but ... (2, Insightful)

PMBjornerud (947233) | more than 6 years ago | (#20523083)

Extinction is great!

Gotta make some room for new species! Or would you like to keep the dinosaurs around as well as giant ferns and various animals that cannot even survive in today's atmosphere? Fact is, pretty much anything that have ever lived on earth is extinct. That's life.

Now, you need to focus on the real problem: Too damn many humans. Sure, redundancy is good, but this is fucking crazy.

Re:Great, exciting and all, but ... (1)

pclminion (145572) | more than 6 years ago | (#20525229)

I wish more people would invest their intelligence into how to protect the life forms (and that includes everything from slimy single-cell organisms to snow tigers) on this globe that are already there. Nobody will be able to bring them back, ever, after they are gone.

Are you... insane? Being able to create arbitrary life in the laboratory is EXACTLY what will be necessary to "resurrect" the species we are currently wiping from existence. The polar bear, among many other species, is probably going to be extinct within 50 years. At this point there's probably nothing we can do to stop that. But if we can learn to recreate its living form from scratch, we might have a chance to save these species in the future when their habitats have been restored.

What about the jobs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20525719)

If GreenPeace actually SOLVED ANYTHING they would have to close their doors. People fear being out of work. People fear the freedom that would come from solving the energy crisis and every other crisis. We have even come to fear doing the "right thing" by the rest of creation on this planet. Running on money reduces us to a lower form of life that makes stupid decisions. The automobile engine needs a total re-design, makeover. It's designed all wrong. As is now, the highly-efficient combustion engines (all kinds, + factories) are competing with human lungs, which are extremely inefficient. We actually exhale most of the oxygen we inhale. That's one big reason our bodies aren't metabolizing fat. Low oxygen = low metabolic rate. Google search for "self hyperbarics". [google.com]

However, once we start doing things right, increment by increment, we will find how glorious it makes us feel. Once we latch onto that things may begin to change. Soon as the head parrot shuts up bragging about the low unemployment rate would help. Telling us slaves {i.e. taxpayers} we all have punch clock jobs is self-serving to those at the top of the Pyramid => http://tinyurl.com/3de6r7 [tinyurl.com] . That page also tells how to stop malignant cancers with nutrition-induced chemical burns to the insides of cancer cells while not harming normal cells.

There is life (4, Funny)

eclectro (227083) | more than 6 years ago | (#20519705)

The green glow was proof that his fragile creations were capable of making their own proteins
Or that they were reading slashdot.

Just wait... (1, Funny)

DrYak (748999) | more than 6 years ago | (#20520303)

making their own proteins

reading slashdot.


Just wait a few billion years, and they evolve to the point where they acquire an additional capability :
- starting pointless holy wars about the subject whether they evolved spontaneously, where created by intelligent design or where by a giant flying spaghetti monster.

The BLOB becomes reality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20519749)

Soon it will eat and outgrow everything!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blob [wikipedia.org]

Matter knowing it's own existence (3, Interesting)

TheBearBear (1103771) | more than 6 years ago | (#20519755)

The concept of matter ending up as human beings, and then being aware of its own existence, is mind blowing! Is there a scientific definition for life? I don't mean the using energy and waste - has dna - reproduces - want to will to survive stuff. I hope you understand what I am trying to ask. Like a clump of matter one day, then aware of its own existence the next day, what a transition!!

I've read that some say it just might be that it's all just a bunch of chemical/electrical interactions, but to get to the point where matter contemplates its own existence is just on a different level. So it's big bang heat explosion stars planets...then human beings (albeit much much later). Is that something you can say is a property of matter? That at some point it will know of its own existence?

What's/where's the threshold between a blob of carbon+goo, and me? Or at least, are there any theories? Or is all of this stuff discussed only in the philosphical realm?

Re:Matter knowing it's own existence (2, Interesting)

m0ns00n (943739) | more than 6 years ago | (#20519805)

Actually, an emerging thought is that consciousness is a property of matter, OR it is a symbiotic twin to matter: matter resonating with consciousness. At one point the resonating brings fruit in the form of memories and thoughts in a capable matter-structure. So in theory, if you manage to put material pieces together in a certain combination, it will end up being self-aware. Also; all matter becomes potentially conscious, and it also means that everything is one in a much more profound way. Now you might also understand concepts like the over-self, "God" and a self aware universe. I'm sure all you religious people will have a field day on this :-) but at the end of the day, the idea that matter has potent consciousness in itself really explains how life is possible at all, and must exist, and it can perhaps lead to a more down to earth view on existence than that there has been a omnipotent master designing the universe as an architect would a house. My thoughts on this anyhow..

Re:Matter knowing it's own existence (2, Interesting)

nyekulturniy (413420) | more than 6 years ago | (#20520479)

I have thought about this, and I wouldn't agree that consciousness is strictly a property of matter; if you have a sufficiently stable substrate with differences in energy potential, it is possible for an organized system to have quasi-nervous action, which leads to thought. (I was thinking of the nature of thought because I was answering my own hypothetical question, "How do angels or other immaterial creatures think?")

Matter doesn't have consciousness unless it's organized into life, which in turn must have a nervous system. It's an emergent property that depends on this organization. So, the question becomes not "Is matter sufficient to create consciousness" to "What sort of organization or system is required for consciousness?"

There the question becomes interesting. Is organization inevitable? Or does it require a first impulse, a Prime Mover?

To address a second point in your post, the knowledge of God:

Those of us who are of faith realize that revealed knowledge is not the same as the common knowledge given to all of us; it is productive to try to fuse the two sorts of knowledge for the mental exercise, but it is fruitless. As St. Thomas Aquinas noted, all truth points to the same source, so in the long run there is a resolution of the apparent paradoxes.

Philosophy only gets us so far, as to either accept a First Mover or to deny all causality when a chain of thought is extended long enough. I accept a First Mover, because I believe in causality. (Note: this is not meant to be a rigorous analysis.)

Is the universe God? That depends on the definition of the universe and God. Is the universe merely all we can detect through the senses, or does it include concepts? Is God a Person, or an impersonal force, or is God everything? If God is everything, that means that either God is not good, or there is no evil. And so we go on for hours and hours, illuminating our sources of thought, but not solving the issue.

I am really interested in this research. If one can create cellular life, then what an accomplishment! Cells are life, the rest of it is commentary.

Re:Matter knowing it's own existence (1)

dapsychous (1009353) | more than 6 years ago | (#20520749)

For the love of god (no pun intended), somebody mod parent up! I've rarely seen this argument phrased quite so well.

Re:Matter knowing it's own existence (1)

shaitand (626655) | more than 6 years ago | (#20521459)

'There the question becomes interesting. Is organization inevitable? Or does it require a first impulse, a Prime Mover?'

So far the evidence seems to indicate that organization is inevitable. This is observed in neural nets, birds flocking, bee hives, ant colonies, a handful of rat neurons tossed onto a sensor plate that in turn is connected to a flight simulator, etc. When you mix together a number of simple components that interact in a sufficient variety of ways their simple individual unorganized roles always end up creating a greater and more complex organized interaction.

What puzzles me is whether these more intricate and complex interactions are really organization or whether organization does not exist and is a byproduct of what we define as intelligence. Humans look at themselves and the world around them and define it in terms of patterns. They label the patterns, discover how to create new patterns through the interaction of patterns. Patterns of matter, elements, forces, properties, what do all those words have in common? They are labels we have assigned to patterns.

What if there is no individuality and the patterns aren't real. What if our intelligence is a sickness that a group of molecules in a sea random chaos have adopted... wait, a sickness would be a pattern...

Re:Matter knowing it's own existence (1)

hawkfish (8978) | more than 6 years ago | (#20523243)

What puzzles me is whether these more intricate and complex interactions are really organization or whether organization does not exist and is a byproduct of what we define as intelligence. Humans look at themselves and the world around them and define it in terms of patterns. They label the patterns, discover how to create new patterns through the interaction of patterns. Patterns of matter, elements, forces, properties, what do all those words have in common? They are labels we have assigned to patterns.
I've often wondered about this WRT the second law of thermodynamics. If you look at the second law as a statement about the sizes of partitions in phase space, then while it is true, one is left wondering about the arbitrariness of the partitions. They are useful to us, but are they really there?

Put another way, is the second law really a law or an just engineering maxim?

Re:Matter knowing it's own existence (2, Insightful)

The One and Only (691315) | more than 6 years ago | (#20523883)

The purpose of science is to achieve scientific understanding, not to learn truth. This is good because it's difficult to rigorously identify truth outside of logic and mathematics--a consistent scientific understanding may not be provably true, but it is consistent with all of our experiences as of yet, and that's the best we can do for the external world. If we believe in the second law of thermodynamics and understand it accurately, our observations of the external world will make more sense, and be more predictable.

Re:Matter knowing it's own existence (2, Insightful)

PitaBred (632671) | more than 6 years ago | (#20523461)

Matter doesn't have consciousness unless it's organized into life, which in turn must have a nervous system.
So, plants aren't "life"? Fungi? What about bacteria? None of those have nervous systems. Those of you "of faith" should consider informing yourselves before stating retarded pseudo-scientific bullshit. This shouldn't be "+5 Interesting", it should be "-1 Talking out of ass"

Re:Matter knowing it's own existence (1)

NobleSavage (582615) | more than 6 years ago | (#20523475)

>Philosophy only gets us so far, as to either accept a First Mover or to deny all causality when a chain of thought >is extended long enough. I accept a First Mover, because I believe in causality. What caused the First Mover?

Re:Matter knowing it's own existence (2, Insightful)

The One and Only (691315) | more than 6 years ago | (#20523851)

... if you have a sufficiently stable substrate with differences in energy potential, it is possible for an organized system to have quasi-nervous action, which leads to thought. (I was thinking of the nature of thought because I was answering my own hypothetical question, "How do angels or other immaterial creatures think?")

Meaningless. Energy is part of the materialist universe, and in any case the existence of immaterial substances has never been demonstrated--any speculation on the quasi-physical properties of immaterial substances is simply fiction spun out of whole cloth.

Philosophy only gets us so far, as to either accept a First Mover or to deny all causality when a chain of thought is extended long enough. I accept a First Mover, because I believe in causality. (Note: this is not meant to be a rigorous analysis.)

That's good, because there's no sufficiently rigorous analysis that would have gotten you to that conclusion. (Hint: what caused the prime mover?) The only thing I can suggest to you is a more thorough study of philosophy.

Re:Matter knowing it's own existence (2, Interesting)

ockegheim (808089) | more than 6 years ago | (#20520597)

Any universe in which particles appear at random and with a lot of time on its hands will eventually produce large numbers of Boltzmann Brains [wikipedia.org] (randomly appearing objects capable of observation). The observations that the universe's expansion is accelerating and that there may be no end of time allows this. This article [arxiv.org] states that if we (ie. evolved sentience) are typical observers then the universe is more likely than not to end within 19 billion years. This is a bit like the theory that if I am a typical human, then the human race doesn't have much of a future, because if there are many more billions of humans in the future it makes me special, not typical.

But it doesn't take a cosmologist to look at me and fear for the human race.

Re:Matter knowing it's own existence (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 6 years ago | (#20522755)

First observation a Boltzmann brain makes: "I am"
Second observation most might make (if they live long enough): "oh shit" :).

Re:Matter knowing it's own existence (5, Interesting)

BarneyL (578636) | more than 6 years ago | (#20519829)

What's/where's the threshold between a blob of carbon+goo, and me? Or at least, are there any theories? Or is all of this stuff discussed only in the philosphical realm?
You are assuming that self awareness is an all or nothing situation.
More realistically all living things could be placed on a scale with carbon and goo at the bottom end perhaps small mammals next, then moving up through apes to us.
And of course finally to dolphins and the white mice who are secretly running the whole experiment.

Re:Matter knowing it's own existence (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20519853)

I doubt that singled-celled organisms are aware of their own existence. Maybe you should rephrase your question "a scientific definition for life?" in a way that conveys what you mean.

The pattern's the thing (1, Insightful)

Orange Crush (934731) | more than 6 years ago | (#20520357)

People are made out of water, CO2, nitrogen and a dash of salt. Your computer, cell phone, etc are metal and sand. The magic isn't in the matter, it's the pattern it's been arranged in to.

Re:The pattern's the thing (1)

The One and Only (691315) | more than 6 years ago | (#20523915)

As any chemist knows, the material dictates the pattern. Carbon is willing to do things that copper is not--and the "patterns" of life all exist on this level.

Re:Matter knowing it's own existence (1)

marcello_dl (667940) | more than 6 years ago | (#20520463)

> Or at least, are there any theories?

Ummmm "...for dust you are and to dust you will return" kinda says the experiment can succeed. We just need to know if the "breath of life" is built-in or requires a syscall by root.

[Hey you didn't specify SCIENTIFIC theories :P]

Re:Matter knowing it's own existence (1)

epistemiclife (1101021) | more than 6 years ago | (#20520487)

This is definitely he realm of philosophy: specifically, philosophy of the mind. You are describing, indirectly, I think, the mind-body problem. (You also raised some other issues, but I think that this is the most basic of them). Science will never have an explanation for things such as sensations: pain, taste, smell, etc; naturalistic science is limited to immediately observable things. Because of this, science may observe that, for example, when humans feel X, nerves Y fire. However, since, by definition, a phenomenal (mental) event is observable only by the person experiencing it, it would seem to be something non-physical, by definition, despite whatever physical correlates may exist. As these things are conceptually outside of the realm of what we can put under a microscope, so to speak, I think it's safe to say that there will never be a scientific explanation for how this works. Philosophers, however, have been trying forever, and the two main groups are the materialists (who, for various reasons, I think are just burying their heads in the sand, with regard to phenomenal properties of mental events), and the dualists, who, like me, believe that, since sensations (and consciousness, in general) are first-person experiences to which only the experiencer is privy, they cannot be physical. They are inherently non-physical and unobservable, short of some sort of psychic empathy, which, of course, a materialist would reject outright anyway. There are other, less popular groups, such as functionalists (think of Turing machines), but those dualists and physicalists/materialists are the two primary ones. There are subgroups thereof, of course.

Re:Matter knowing it's own existence (1)

DeadChobi (740395) | more than 6 years ago | (#20521177)

Actually, once we figure out how to model objects the size of the human brain or larger in software on a quantum level you'll probably find that everything that we ever think or feel is due to chaos in that system. When we can mathematically model the system with a system of equations then it becomes simple to understand how different phenomena arise as a result of different control parameters in the system. The really hard part is determining the control parameters and the state of the brain at the time those control parameters are input. Also, the modeling is a bitch too.

Re:Matter knowing it's own existence (1)

epistemiclife (1101021) | more than 6 years ago | (#20522947)

I fail to see how a mathematical model is any more useful explaining phenomenal properties in sentient beings than any other, less complex method. The problem is not that we lack an explanation for phenomenal properties; the problem is more concerned with the fact that they exist at all and are unlike any other known phenomena. The fact that my hand jerks back when I touch a stove makes sense. The very real, yet intangible phenomenal property of the sensation of pain -- or that particular pain -- itself is something which is, by its very nature, unobservable by anyone except the person experiencing it. (Looking at my facial expressions, the neurons firing in my brain, or a very clever computational model are not the same as experiencing the pain. Experiencing the pain itself is the only way to "observe" the pain, as it is, by nature, a mental experience. That is the point: that this is outside of the realm of what is observable, because it is, by nature, something which is non-physical, regardless of whether or not it is an artifact of something which is physical and therefore observable.

Appalling bigotry (1)

porpnorber (851345) | more than 6 years ago | (#20521173)

You include 'has DNA' in the list of criteria for life specifically, I assume, to exclude alien lifeforms. Is this bigotry innate (and evolved!), or did you have an unfortunate childhood experience with some shales and a magnetic vortex based master intelligence?

As to your question, if you put a learning and abstraction engine into an environment with multiple (near-)copies of itself and ask it to plan for the future, it's pretty clear that the useful (i.e. adaptive) option among the possible outcomes is approximate self-modeling. For many technical reasons it's tricky to get right, but nature had lots of time, and provided plenty of impetus, to work on it.

If you don't think that's a strong enough answer, then consider this: how can you prove to me that you are self-aware? How can you prove to yourself that you are? Reflexive social planning ("I know how to do this, but if I try I will be too scared to go through with it, so I had better take a friend....") is the best evidence you can give me.

Re:Matter knowing it's own existence (3, Insightful)

ajs (35943) | more than 6 years ago | (#20521215)

The concept of matter ending up as human beings, and then being aware of its own existence, is mind blowing!
Well, most of the matter that makes up human beings has no awareness whatsoever. Only those portions that take part in the higher-order neurological functions are part of that process. Your fingernails are not aware, which is why you feel no sympathy for those parts of your body when you mercilessly cut them off and throw them away, unceremoniously in the trash. Awareness is a feedback loop which exists in anything with a spinal cord. This feedback loop is increasingly complex in more evolved species, culminating in... man? Perhaps. Perhaps marine mammals have a more complex awareness. We're not sure. Certainly we combine awareness and a drive to manipulate our environment to an extent which is unrivaled.

Is there a scientific definition for life? I don't mean the using energy and waste - has dna - reproduces - want to will to survive stuff.
You're confused. That's life. You're looking for a definition of intelligence, and frankly, no. There's no universally agreed upon definition of intelligence. Part of the problem is that we have only one example of what we consider to be "an intelligent species," and it's that species that is trying to produce the definition. Does the spectrum of intelligence continue past our point of development? Would a more intelligent species have a very different definition? Do we process information in ways that make it impossible to objectively define intelligence? We don't know.

Like a clump of matter one day, then aware of its own existence the next day, what a transition!!
This is a gross oversimplification, on par with "a trickle of water one day, and the grand canyon the next day, what a transition!!" No, it took *billions* of years to reach the stage of simple bacterial life forms on Earth. Just moving from ape-like creatures to humans as we see them today took over a million years (think of it as 50,000 repetitions of "great" before the phrase "grand monkey"). Now look back at Europe in the middle ages, just handfulls of generations ago when humans were about 80% of our current average height. Imagine the possible changes in humanity over 100-1000 times that span of time. Now, multiply that amount of change times 1,000-2,000 and you have roughly the period that it took life on Earth to evolve from microbes. This is not "matter one day, then aware of its own existence the next day." Even when measured against the development of the entire universe, this is a very substantial period of time. Think about that. Galaxies formed in about the time than it took Earth to go from lifeless rock to our home.

Re:Matter knowing it's own existence (1)

renoX (11677) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526985)

>>Now look back at Europe in the middle ages, just handfulls of generations ago when humans were about 80% of our current average height.

Uh? It seems as if you're suggesting that these guys were different from us, only the living conditions (and the lack of medical knowledge) made them smaller for example, otherwise they were 100% identical to us.

Re:Matter knowing it's own existence (1)

protonman (411526) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527635)

Well, most of the matter that makes up human beings has no awareness whatsoever. Only those portions that take part in the higher-order neurological functions are part of that process.
My neurons are not self-aware. They supposedly play a role in creating my self-awareness, but the same goes for my hands, my vocal cords, and arguably every other body part that I am aware of.

Re:Matter knowing it's own existence (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 6 years ago | (#20521393)

What's/where's the threshold between a blob of carbon+goo, and me? Or at least, are there any theories? Or is all of this stuff discussed only in the philosphical realm?
Consciousness doesn't seem to be a magical property of a carbon blob but simply the ability for something to treat concept including its own self.
There are thousands of theories and definitions for life or consciousness. Some argue that a mug with "I AM A MUG" written on it is self-conscious, some say that the ego is just an elaborate illusion, some say the brain uses some spooky quantum stuff.
I, for one, believe that we are living the beginning of a new Scientific Revolution. Most people see the brain as a magic black box that is too mysterious to be understood by science. This mentality will have to change : the brain, the parts of it that manage the ego, the motivational drive, the rational self are unfolding their secrets and the consciousness is not a monolithic block of soul anymore.

I believe that these discovery will not make the definition for consciousness clearer but that it will show how this concept is vague and bears no real signification.

Re:Matter knowing it's own existence (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20522969)

Dude, besides /. what else are you reading???

Seriously, it is impossible to happens, i.e. most of slash doters haven't come even close to that conclusion themselves, and most teenagers never will, how come you can expect that an organic blob could realize that all by itself...

But one may say: once it develops means of reproduction and self-preservation.

Well most of slash doters can score the two items ( masturbation is halfway there, right, some even get to have girlfriend... and for self-preservation they post using Anonymous Coward tag), but teens can only score the first item, so as we see here, we are not quite there yet.

Re:Matter knowing it's own existence (1)

Siffy (929793) | more than 6 years ago | (#20525589)

Is there a scientific definition for life? I don't mean the using energy and waste - has dna - reproduces - want to will to survive stuff.

The ability of organic material to move, reproduce, utilize energy, do work, grow and die
That is a scientific definition of life. You may be wanting a more full definition for sentience than tfd or dictionary.com provides. One is a biological question, the other is a philosophical.

For those with Academic Paper subscriptions (5, Informative)

starseeker (141897) | more than 6 years ago | (#20519765)

For those who want more meat, these look like places to start:

Pier Luigi Luisi, Francesca Ferri and Pasquale Stano Approaches to semi-synthetic minimal cells: a review
http://www.springerlink.com/content/y218jk71n1k407 85/ [springerlink.com]

Giovanni Murtas Question 7: Construction of a Semi-Synthetic Minimal Cell: A Model for Early Living Cells
http://www.springerlink.com/content/9p404l8247968n 72/ [springerlink.com]

Re:For those with Academic Paper subscriptions (1)

letsgolightning (1004592) | more than 6 years ago | (#20520903)

For those who want more meat, these look like places to start:

I'm a vegetarian, I don't even RTFA.

I for one... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20519819)

welcome our green blob overlords

Re:I for one... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20519833)

Not without opposable thumbs they don't :)

It all seems fine (4, Funny)

fishthegeek (943099) | more than 6 years ago | (#20519933)

It all seems fine and well, what with creating life artificially but, speaking for all the red blooded American, European, African, and Asian males in the world there is just no substitute for doing it the old fashioned way.

At least that's what I hear.

Re:It all seems fine (4, Funny)

slurry47 (27097) | more than 6 years ago | (#20520281)

What do the Australians know that we don't?

Re:It all seems fine (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20520739)

What do the Australians know that we don't?

Something to do with sheep maybe?

Re:It all seems fine (1)

Joe Jay Bee (1151309) | more than 6 years ago | (#20520909)

They're descended from Brits, so technically European.

Not red blooded though, whatever the case. Sorry.

Re:It all seems fine (1)

The One and Only (691315) | more than 6 years ago | (#20523925)

I'm an Aborigine you insensitive clod!

Re:It all seems fine (1)

DogFacedJo (949100) | more than 6 years ago | (#20523031)

What do the Australians know that we don't?
No comment.
    Nothing - there is no 'secret' here at all.
    This has nothing to do with penguins.
    It is absolutely not their fault.

    No, we've never heard of salps.
    Penguins do not eat salps.
    Salps are perfectly safe.

Welcome (0, Redundant)

tokki (604363) | more than 6 years ago | (#20520017)

I, for one, welcome our new glowing overlords!

Re:Welcome (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20520145)

Actually ... If they really are "trying to make the most effective, minimal organism possible", I do hope they check for things like "is this easy to kill" and "does the average immune system wipe it out".

In a galaxy far away (3, Funny)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 6 years ago | (#20520127)

Mouse1: Hi Dormie, look! The life we created in this test tube is capable of making its own life!

Mouse2: No Way! Get out of here! Lemme look! Darn it, looks like they have done it. What did you call them?

Mouse1: Humans.

Mouse2: What do we do now?

Mouse1: First we need to redraw the plans for the highway, we can no longer run it through Earth. It would be unethical to destroy such an advanced form of life. I never thought they will survive this long though, truth be told.

fridge (0, Offtopic)

SolusSD (680489) | more than 6 years ago | (#20520515)

I'm pretty sure the 4 1/2 week old smart chicken in my friends fridge last night was evolving into some sort of lifeform. one with a bad bo problem.

Artificial vs "natural" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20520553)

If they are made of exactly the same thing, then what is the difference, or is it kinda like calling Organic chemistry to everything carbon bond related?

why create a new lifeform? (1)

Knoeki (1149769) | more than 6 years ago | (#20520607)

Hrm... I knew they sort-of successfully cloned humans, but this is really the next step... I don't know what to think of it.. I mean, there is quite a lot on this planet already that we don't know a lot about. why create a new lifeform? ...probably because "it's possible"...

Re:why create a new lifeform? (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 6 years ago | (#20521005)

Hrm... I knew they sort-of successfully cloned humans, but this is really the next step... I don't know what to think of it.. I mean, there is quite a lot on this planet already that we don't know a lot about. why create a new lifeform? ...probably because "it's possible"...
To prove that it is possible.

Re:why create a new lifeform? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20521287)

I'm surprised you knew about the cloning of a human. Most people still don't realize that ever happened. (and whats crazy is, it happened /before/ the sheep iirc.)

This whole topic reminds me of a joke I heard some time ago.

All of the top worlds scientists confront God sometime in the future and say, 'We no longer need you. We can create a fully functional human out of a handful of dust.' God says, 'Prove it.'. So they grab a handful of dust and God says, 'Hey... Get you own dust.'

The sad part is that most people are still incorrectly taught skewed conclusions of the Miller / Urey experiment. Even though that experiment was very strong evidence that life could not have evolved in earths atmosphere it was broadcasted as 'Scientists create life in the laboratory!!'. Even if one day, all the top scientists got together and were able to create life out of 'nothing' (if there is such a thing), it would only prove exactly what they are, for the most part, trying to disprove-- that intelligence is required to create life.

From scratch (1)

skeftomai (1057866) | more than 6 years ago | (#20520643)

What does from scratch mean? Are they using existing cellular and biological materials (i.e. ones that are already partially "assembled")?

From scratch? (1)

fluxxxy (1147419) | more than 6 years ago | (#20520835)

Know what they say....

"In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe." ~ Carl Sagan

Re:From scratch? (4, Funny)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 6 years ago | (#20520989)

Know what they say....

"In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe."
~ Carl Sagan
That's not true. You just have to type:

cd scratch
make apple_pie
See? No make universe needed.

Re:From scratch? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20522397)

That comes as a dependency.

SHHHHHHH ! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20520859)

Not too loud now or George Bush will have you arrested for blasphemy!

Fuel producing organisms. (2, Insightful)

EddyPearson (901263) | more than 6 years ago | (#20521285)

"In an interview with Newsweek magazine earlier this year, Dr Venter claimed that a fuel-producing microbe could become the first billion- or trillion-dollar organism. The institute has already patented a set of genes for creating such a stripped-down creature." A fantastic money making idea. However, do we really need an unlimited supply or carbon positive fossil fuels? I can just see the motorways jammed with Stretch Humvees of all shapes and sizes, gracefully spewing that grayish black smoke into our already pissed off atmosphere. With cheaper fuel prices, why walk? why cycle? Everybody will drive. We'll need more and more roads to cope, how will we manage? Bulldose the already thinning vegetation on this planet to build that new bypass we all REALLY need. Shit, it'll be fine, they'll probably come up with an organism that can take carbon dioxide and produce oxygen! Now what a feat that would be, modern science today hey...

Re:Fuel producing organisms. (1)

Scarblac (122480) | more than 6 years ago | (#20523407)

How would a fuel producing organism ever be carbon positive? Unless it does actual nuclear reactions (I think not), every C atom it excretes needs to come from its fuel.

Re:Fuel producing organisms. (1)

Thomas Shaddack (709926) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527107)

Biofuels are not carbon-positive. To create fuel, the carbon has to be taken from somewhere. Why not the atmosphere? Voila, carbon-neutral we go.

With cheap and plentiful fuel, why drive? Let's fly instead! Voila, who needs the roads?

With good enough engines there is little to no problem with particulate emissions. Voila, here goes your smoke.

We can rebuild the world. We have the technology.

Our end? (0, Troll)

FiveLights (1012605) | more than 6 years ago | (#20521381)

I don't mean to come off as some sort of Chicken Little or something, but I worry sometimes about scientists getting a little careless. Certainly this research is awesome and I'm all for it, but I hope that there is someone in there really giving some thought to keeping these new lifeforms from getting out and killing everything on the Earth. Scientists often have the attitude that what they are working on is awesome and good and poses no danger to anyone. "These life forms can't possibly hurt us, so why contain them?!" So they take them home on their shirts and the things evolve and bad things happen. Again, I don't want to rain on the awesome parade or anything, but I hope that someone in there is giving this some thought and maybe, once they get somewhere, they'll start taking precautions to contain this new life.

Re:Our end? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20522721)

So they take them home on their shirts and the things evolve and bad things happen.

Weird how people are able to believe in evolution without understanding it.

Either that or Chicken Little was trying to be funny.

Giovanni Murtas (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20521615)

I welcome our new overlord, Giovanni Murtas and his army of goo.

urinary tract infection from hell (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20522991)

I find it rather disturbing that one of those groups is creating a new life form out of the bacteria that causes urinary tract infections. Wouldn't it be a kick in the pants if this new life form caused your ..., well you get the idea.

GIRLFRIENDS FOR NERDS! (1)

jakepmatthews (1142845) | more than 6 years ago | (#20523575)

FINALLY! nerds will have (cute) girlfriends!

Variation of Carl Sagan's words. (1)

hajus (990255) | more than 6 years ago | (#20524903)

If you attempt to build life from scratch, you must first create the universe.

In Soviet Russia.... (1)

ColombianKid (1088839) | more than 6 years ago | (#20526569)

green blobs create you!

Re:In Soviet Russia.... (1)

Thomas Shaddack (709926) | more than 6 years ago | (#20527085)

Moral: Don't fuck with their army.
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