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US Scientist Creates Artificial Life

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the hope-he-did-a-good-dr.-frankenstein-moment dept.

Biotech 253

Joshocar writes "The sometimes-controversial US scientist Craig Venter has announced that he has created artificial life. Venter stated that it is 'a very important philosophical step in the history of our species ... We are going from reading our genetic code to the ability to write it. That gives us the hypothetical ability to do things never contemplated before.' In the lab, Venter was able to construct and write genetic code from laboratory chemicals. The next step is to insert this code into a cell, which has already been demonstrated in the past. This ability to write genetic code could result in new ways to combat global warming and new drugs, but it could also lead to new bio-weapons."

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253 comments

He looked down on his creating and... (4, Funny)

TheThiefMaster (992038) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880771)

... saw that it was a "frist!" poster :(

THIS IS AN OUTRAGE! (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20880793)

Craig Venter is playing God! How dare he?!

Life can only be created by our Lord.

This is worse than stem cell research!

I'm calling George W. Bush about this tomorrow. Do you think the executive branch could put through to ban the creation of Life except by God? Those activist judges legislating form the bench might call it unconstitutional, but Justice Scalia has our back.

Very Truely Yours,
Bob Dole
--
Write in George W. Bush. Never switch presidents in a war!

Hello... (4, Funny)

Chairboy (88841) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880781)

So what exactly does 'Hello world' look like in DNA?

AGTCA
        TCGCT "WORLD"
?

Re:Hello... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20880813)

It reads "takes this, Creationist bitches!!"

Re:Hello... (1)

edflyerssn007 (897318) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881083)

Or it proves in some kind of twisted way that life needs to be designed. Or in this case, refactored, as it appears all they did was remove the portions of the DNA not needed for sustaining life.

-Ed

Re:Hello... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20881485)

It only proves that things that can happen arbitrarily can be made to happen intently by a computer[1] with sufficient information about the process[2] and sufficient means of interaction[3].

[1] Computer in this sense simply refers to something capable of computation, such as a human.
[2] Let's hear it for the efficiency of the scientific method.
[3] Humans rawk. Hunting primates for the win.

Re:Hello... (5, Funny)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880913)

At least it is easier to read than Perl.

Re:Hello... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20880965)

We have gone from fscanf() to fprintf(), so I guess it would look like:

char str[] = "Hello World\n";
FILE * out;
if(out=fopen("/dev/chromosome", "w")) fprintf(out,str);


Apparently it is up to the operating system implementation to provide real time conversions to DNA code bocks from the file stream.

Re:Hello... (1, Interesting)

pla (258480) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881099)

Apparently it is up to the operating system implementation to provide real time conversions to DNA code bocks from the file stream.

Humorous or not, I consider this one of the most insightful comments I've read on Slashdot in quite a long time. If you hadn't posted as AC, I even have mod points at the moment, but, so it goes.

Kudos!

Re:Hello... (3, Funny)

TarPitt (217247) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881147)

I think that particular nucleic acid sequence translates to:

"All your base are belong to us"

Re:Hello... (1)

unMasqre (870322) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881259)

TATA might be more accurate than AGTCA for "hello". the "TATA" box is largely recognized as an indicator that gene transcription it about to start. as for "world"? hm, it would probably be everything else in the genome :)

Re:Hello... (1)

Assassin bug (835070) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881433)

I agree. Maybe "Hello World!" in gene-speak would be "TATA{nnn}!"

Re:Hello... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20881883)

Using amino acid shorthands, and substituting Q for O, how about making a protein out of it?
E.g. ATG CAT ATT TGG CAA CGT TTA GAT TAG , which works out to start - H-I-W-Q-R-L-D - stop.
For bonus points, make the words exons and use introns for spaces.
(IANAG, I just take bioinformatics for fun.)

Open Source (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20881983)

I don't use DNA unless it is GPLed.

life (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20880801)

mah dick in yo mouth creates life

Re:life (5, Funny)

Seumas (6865) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881009)

Wrong hole. Biology fails you.

Artificial Life (1, Troll)

HomelessInLaJolla (1026842) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880811)

But will it run AmigaOS5?

Life... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20880817)

Patent Pending.

Re:Life... (5, Insightful)

suv4x4 (956391) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880899)

Patent Pending.

Interesting question. If a genetic sequence is invented and patented by scientist, could a natural mutation in a human being leading to the same sequence lead to patent infringement?

I guess the answer is pending, and so is the patent reform to shape it.

Re:Life... (3, Interesting)

AgentPaper (968688) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881353)

Already a problem in farming, where unintentional pollination of non-GE crops by GE varieties results in the non-GE farmer losing his/her shirt to lawsuits by Monsanto et al. The "patent reform" we have on hand is completely biased toward the biotech companies. It used to be that the non-GE farmer could claim unintentional pollination as a defense; now the farmer is liable regardless of how the genes got into his/her field. I can only imagine the fallout when we start patenting human genetic sequences. Will people have to buy their children now?

Re:Life... (3, Funny)

yuriks (1089091) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881785)

No, we will create deadly killers to end the lawyer menace once and for all. I really mean it.

Re:Life... (2, Interesting)

E++99 (880734) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881979)

I'd have to say yes. Maybe one day it will be necessary for celebrities to patent their genomes so people don't make unauthorized clones of them for fun and profit.

How long until the neoterics emerge? (1)

AmazingRuss (555076) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880821)

I for one would welcome our high speed lizard overlords.

Re:How long until the neoterics emerge? (1)

Hoi Polloi (522990) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881035)

Make that our severe diarrhea overlords.

Re:How long until the neoterics emerge? (2, Funny)

cyberstealth1024 (860459) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881465)

I for one would welcome our high speed lizard overlords.
...i hope they're faster than DSL...

There are few more steps (4, Interesting)

suv4x4 (956391) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880827)

We are going from reading our genetic code to the ability to write it. That gives us the hypothetical ability to do things never contemplated before.

So ok, first 3 steps were:

1. figure out there's such a thing as "genetic code"
2. read genetic code
3. write genetic code

There are two more steps:

4. write some genetic code that results in something sensible
5. write some genetic code that results in something sensible, and that's useful for us

Arguably steps 4 and 5 are the hardest possible steps for us to conquer :) At some point I suspect scientists will realize it's impossible to keep tinkering at things on the gene-by-gene level.

We'll see "genetic frameworks" with reusable piece that have well known behavior, and genetical development kits that simulate assemblies' features and behavior much faster than doing full-blown atom-by-atom simulation.

Genetical programming will be born :)

But, oh damn, forget my wild dreams, back to Earth: let's make some drugs and bio-weapons!

Re:There are few more steps (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20880859)

6. ???

7. Profit!

Re:There are few more steps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20880919)

No shit? Genetic engineering programmers might learn to create high level genetic languages, so they can implement, use, and re-use functions? Holy fuck!

I just hope my code was compiled with gcc (that is, the Genome Chromosome Compiler), and not in Visual Genetics Basic, dummies edition.

Re:There are few more steps (2, Insightful)

webmaster404 (1148909) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881013)

I just hope the code is GPL'd

When memes... (1)

iknownuttin (1099999) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881071)

Reading your post, I really though it would go like this:

1. figure out there's such a thing as "genetic code"
2. read genetic code
3. profit!

Oh brother. Now I'm afraid of seeing "In Soviet Russia, Life makes you!"

Re:There are few more steps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20881087)

That's GNU/Bio Weapons to you!

Step 6 (1)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881101)

Make Godzilla!

Re:There are few more steps (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20881127)

We are going from reading our genetic code to the ability to write it. That gives us the hypothetical ability to do things never contemplated before.

So ok, first 3 steps were:

1. figure out there's such a thing as "genetic code"
2. read genetic code
3. write genetic code

There are two more steps:

4. write some genetic code that results in something sensible
5. write some genetic code that results in something sensible, and that's useful for us


The problem is that we will probably write something during steps 3 or 4 that will kill us all before we ever get to step 5.

Wanted: a sci-fi book (1)

MK_CSGuy (953563) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881931)

We'll see "genetic frameworks" with reusable piece that have well known behavior, and genetical development kits that simulate assemblies' features and behavior much faster than doing full-blown atom-by-atom simulation.

Genetical programming will be born :)


This sounds to me like a great setting for a science fiction book (or a morals-related debate)- a future world where there is proprietary genetic code which only some people can afford and a gpl-style licensed genetic code which everyone can freely use.

If anyone here knows of such work that explores such issues (and not only the popular genetic profiling issue) please comment :)

Monsters have family (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20880829)

Wait.. so if this was just discovered recently, the monsters that have been living under my bed all my life must have a family! I haven't felt sorry for them until now.

Grossly misleading (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20880835)

Venter was able to construct and write genetic code from laboratory chemicals. The next step is to insert this code into a cell, which has already been demonstrated in the past.

None of the above is creating "artificial life". DNA is the life created by someone or something else. Inserting a DNA into a cell is not creating "artificial life". The cell is already a life -- it is the life created by someone or something else. He only modifies the life. He didn't create it.

Re:Grossly misleading (1)

HateBreeder (656491) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880863)

Exactly my thoughts,

Call me when they create the cell to which the artificially created DNA will be inserted to, from scratch.

Re:Grossly misleading (4, Funny)

mc moss (1163007) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880895)

I think a bigger challenge for scientists is for them to insert their DNA into a cell naturally made by women

Re:Grossly misleading (1)

Alexandra Erenhart (880036) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881449)

I have the impression that by now, most scientist find the "normal" breeding system way not challenging.

Re:Grossly misleading (3, Funny)

justin12345 (846440) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881711)

whoosh!

Re:Grossly misleading (5, Insightful)

suv4x4 (956391) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880963)

Call me when they create the cell to which the artificially created DNA will be inserted to, from scratch.

You'll be waiting for this call forever. The structure even of a single cell is immensely complex. I mean, we share over 50% DNA with *plants*. Half of our DNA is just the "core OS" for running a live organism. It's not a small thing.

Scientists won't start building cells from scratch, they'll just tweak existing ones more and more while they understand the exact mechanisms completely.

You'll be long dead before we see fully artificial, rebuilt from scratch cells.

I gotta ask you though. What % of code rewrite would you accept on an existing organism, before you call it artificial life.

1%? That amount of changes could turn a monkey into man, or man into monkey.

5%? They could start with a cat, and end with a dolphin.

Name your numbers.

Re:Grossly misleading (1)

HateBreeder (656491) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881097)

Not saying that modifying existing cells and DNA isn't useful (on the contrary).

But you can't claim you've "Created Life" by modifying an existing instance.

Re:Grossly misleading (4, Insightful)

pla (258480) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881173)

But you can't claim you've "Created Life" by modifying an existing instance.

So did Netscape or the Mozilla Foundation "create" FireFox 2? ;-)



I agree, we haven't reached the point where we can fairly call it "created life". But this one step, more than anything since Pasteur, represents a major step forward. The ability to invoke a breakpoint on a running cell, replace its code with a custom gene sequence, and continue execution, means we can now probe the rest of the cellular machinery with unprecedented efficiency.

The GP's point aside, I think this one step means we'll see a fully artificial cell within a decade or two - Certainly within our lifetimes... Presuming, of course, that the military doesn't create and release (accidentally or deliberately doesn't matter) the "perfect bug" before then.

Re:Grossly misleading (4, Informative)

SpinyNorman (33776) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881217)

Everybody gets hung up on "life" as if it's something so fundamental, but really it's by definition nothing more than a set of characteristics (ability to reproduce, etc, etc).

Do you consider a virus to be alive? It's a borderline case, but some people at least would say yes.

The Polio virus has already been synthesized from scratch from raw chemicals - feed chemicals into a machine and get a virus out the other end. No need to sprinkle any magic "life" pixie dust on it.

Re:Grossly misleading (1)

E++99 (880734) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881949)

Everybody gets hung up on "life" as if it's something so fundamental, but really it's by definition nothing more than a set of characteristics (ability to reproduce, etc, etc).
That's because life IS a fundamental, real thing -- not merely a set of characteristics.

Do you consider a virus to be alive? It's a borderline case, but some people at least would say yes.

There is no sensible definition of life that would include viruses.

Re:Grossly misleading (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20881375)

Do you create your Turing machines from scratch before creating programs?
The cell structure is being used as a factory for bootstrapping an organism from artificial DNA.
Once we're capable of producing cells from scratch, are we then going to start demanding that we create our own atoms from scratch before we pat ourselves on the back for creating artificial lifeforms?

Re:Grossly misleading (1)

Cyberax (705495) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881659)

Actually, I think that it will be possible in near future to create environment to 'bootstrap' protein synthesis from DNA without a living cell. That way we'll be able to truly create a new life from scratch.

Actually, there's some work on artificial ribosomes. So it may happen even faster I think...

Re:Grossly misleading (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20881109)

From an engineering POW this is as artificial as it will get. All cell mechanisms and structures can be modified by inserting artificially made genes into natural cells. It may require a few generations (like bootstrapping a compiler) but it should not require the scientists to begin the process from non-living materials. This may not hold if the artificial cell must be very different (like using a new genetic encoding scheme or non-carbon based chemistry) but that is beyond horizon right now.

Re:Grossly misleading (1)

marcello_dl (667940) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881197)

Indeed it's a fork :)

And it has good potential for harm. But that is true for any new tech and it's always been this way.

Anyway the more we advance in this field, the more apparent will be the abyss that separates us from $DEITY's realm. Virtual artificial life, where somebody devises a set of rules for a virtual world that ends up with entities of such world being self-aware (for some definitions of awareness), would be quite more useful from a philosophical POV than these experiments, but this might help as a step.

Depends how you flip the coin. (1, Interesting)

jshriverWVU (810740) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880847)

This is a highly philosphical topic. While I am not a creationalist, being able to biochemically construct a DNA pattern isn't what I'd really call life. If he can build an amoeba 100% from raw material, then that is pretty close. Looks like they're at the beginning stages though, so the field is definitely alive. :)

not quite .... (5, Informative)

Kristoph (242780) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880855)

1) He has not announced this. He is expected to annouce it. It's not actually been done yet, according to the article, although Venter is '100% confident'.

2) It was not him but his team.

3) His team has not actually created the life form in question, it's just a stripped down copy of an existing life form.

4) His team has only made a copy of the chromosome, the other parts of cellular machinary come from an existing organism.

So the summary should read ...

Craig Venter is expected to announce that his team has created an artificial copy of a bacterium chomosome. The arficial chromosome, if all goes well, will be installed in a cell, and will take over its machinery, and effectivelly begin living.

]{

MOD PARENT UP (1)

Icarus1919 (802533) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880925)

This guy actually knows what he's talking about.

Re:not quite .... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20880973)

Yes, I would agree. Typical grandstanding by this fellow. Had to pry the genome from his greedy hands when he was trying to privatize/monetize human genes, etc.

The man is a prima donna, prone to exaggerate, self-serving in every way.

And yes, he has merely created some DNA. Routinely done using PCR, etc. He has simply reversed reading techniques to writing techniques. And as pointed out by other posters, he has commandeered the machinery of other cells.

In summary, this is a long, long way from 'creating life'. Take anything Venter says with a (huge) grain of salt and consult others in the field, etc.

The man is simply seeking self-glorification.

Re:not quite .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20880975)

2) It was not him but his team.
That's not part of your job to worry about that.

So the summary should read ...

Craig Venter is expected to announce that his team has created
You obviously don't work in the biomedical research industry. Managers take credit. Research associates are expendable. If you continue to voice your dissatisfaction you will be cited for insubordination, you will be fired, and you will not be hired by anyone else in the industry. Have fun being homeless for the rest of your life. Hope you don't have any outstanding college bills to pay. Maybe you'll get to meet this guy [slashdot.org] .

Re:not quite .... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20881033)

awww someone feels entitled to the high-end job of their choice... so cute.

Sorry for misreading... (1)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881125)

I read it as:

The arficial chromosome, if all goes well, will be installed in a cell, and will take over their machinery, and all living things.

But I like it better this way B-)

Is this the best use we can think of? (5, Insightful)

janrinok (846318) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880865)

"....but it could also lead to new bio-weapons."

What a pity that one of the first things that we think of when making such a step forward is 'How can we use this to kill our fellow man?'. OK, so global warming and new drugs are also in there, but which one would you bet on will receive the big government funding?

Re:Is this the best use we can think of? (1)

Original Replica (908688) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881037)

What a pity that one of the first things that we think of when making such a step forward is 'How can we use this to kill our fellow man?'.

Science and Warfare have gone hand in hand since the beginnings of technology. An advance in technology almost always translates into an advance in the ability to wage war. Those that are rich and powerful because of war (every government ever) know this and often give a lot of support and funding to science. DARPA is an easy example. As this relationship is very old news, it is incumbent upon scientists and thinkers of the world to consider the more brutal applications of their advancements. Alfred Noble learned that the hard way.

Because we've become French. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20881159)

You're misreading that sentence. It's not, "But we can kill people with this! Cool!"

It's, "OH MY GOD THINK OF THE CHILDREN OMG OMG OMG SCIENCE IS BAD :( :( :("

At least, that's how it should be read here in the good ol' God'n'terrism fearin' US o' A.

Re:Is this the best use we can think of? (2, Insightful)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881597)

What a pity that one of the first things that we think of when making such a step forward is 'How can we use this to kill our fellow man?'.

No, I think it goes more like this: "Wow, this has a lot of potential. We can use it for all sorts of things. It's also possible that someone who wants to indiscriminently kill lots of people or hurry along some pet apocalypse might want to use this as a weapon, too, so we'd better understand what it means to approach it that way, the better to be prepared for evidence that that's actually taking place."

But that's not nearly as likely to boost your karma with the idealogical alarmists and kooks that can't grasp the difference between offense and defense, so I can see why you wouldn't present it that way.

fork! (4, Funny)

Kristoph (242780) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880879)

So this is open source at it's best ...
He took the source for a bacterium, he forked it, and made a newer, cleaner version. He is about to start testing. His version does not yet actually do anything, but if all goes well it will be a great foundation for new and usefull stuff.
]{

Yeah, we're forked indeed (1)

NetSettler (460623) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881067)

So this is open source at it's best ... He took the source for a bacterium, he forked it, and made a newer, cleaner version. He is about to start testing. His version does not yet actually do anything, but if all goes well it will be a great foundation for new and usefull stuff.

Presumably this new Generated Pseudo-Life (GP-L) will be viral in nature, seeking to beat down the monopoly stranglehold held by the entrenched biocommunity of today and replace it with something that, while having no market of its own, cannot be killed and hence will continue in perpetuity to drive down the value of Life itself, all the while touting "if it can be freely replicated, it must not be of any value".

And as the last of us natural-born Slashdot readers gasps his last breath of air, he will go to his well-deserved grave happily knowing that software is finally, really, truly free.

I can't wait.

Quite an Important Question (1)

Sub Zero 992 (947972) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880887)

Should we (as a species) have that ability? I suspect that now Craig "Pandora" Venter has opened this particular box, no end of troubles will come from it.

Re:Quite an Important Question (3, Insightful)

BlueGecko (109058) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881321)

Every technology has both good and bad applications. Nuclear reactions can provide an almost limitless supply of energy, far beyond what we as a species need for the foreseeable future. It also lets us make massive atomic bombs, and even doomsday weapons that could wipe out all life on Earth. I think we've done a passable job using that technology thus far.

What about electricity itself? Electricity gave us the electric chair and modern mechanized warfare, It also has given us massive advances in medicine and technology.

This discovery will be no different. It furthers our understanding of our entire biology, getting us closer, inch-by-inch, to being able to cure all diseases, bring back extinct organisms, and likely usher in molecular computers and nano-machines that can self-replicate and help us fix the damage we've done to earth. I've no doubt it can also be used to kill all humans. I'm confident that we as a species will have matured enough by the time this technology becomes useful that our imminent demise won't be our top concern.

Re:Quite an Important Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20881945)

Shut up. That's a Peter Griffin question if I've ever heard one.

This armchair philosphy shit got old in 80s sci-fi. When you do something with your life, you can worry about if you "should" continue or not.

The last thing brilliant scientists need is fat nerds in their parents basements trying to regulate their behavior on internet forum kangaroo courts.

It's not deep, it's not insightful, it's not smart. It's shameless.

Well..I am for it (2, Funny)

lordvalrole (886029) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880915)

as long as Spielberg doesn't make a movie about it.

Since I love being pedantic (5, Informative)

Captain Vittles (1096015) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880927)

The summary's use of the term 'genetic code' actually plays down the enormity of what's written about in TFA. We've been able to assemble 'genetic code' for a long time now - designer oligomers are a very useful tool for researchers, especially with regards to techniques like PCR, which requires a primer to really get started. The accomplishment written about in the article is that a chromosome was constructed. This isn't merely a snippet of code, but hundreds of genes (composed of hundreds of thousands of base pairs), arranged appropriately on the necessary protein structures. When the article says it was painstakingly assembled, I don't doubt it. That kind of synthesis is remarkably difficult, time-consuming and prone to error if careful attention isn't given to every detail.

Also note that this isn't actually synthetic life, just a synthetic genome. The components which translate that genome into a functional organism (i.e. the cell and it's structures) were not created. But this is none the less a great leap forward, and I'm sure the resulting findings and work to come from this will unlock vast possibilities, as well as elucidate some currently unknown processes and problems in molecular biology.

Speaking of possibilities, let's also try not to get too caught up in the nonsense here. This stuff about combating global warming and building drugs and/or bioweapons is just idle speculation, and could be applied to pretty much any kind of molecular biology research. This is just one step, albeit a big one, towards a possible larger goal.

No, not pedantic (1)

iknownuttin (1099999) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881113)

Also note that this isn't actually synthetic life, just a synthetic genome.

I'm glad you mentioned that. What was it? On NOVA? There was some scientist that's trying to make a synthetic life form that's completely different from what's on this planet. It would reproduce and feed, but it wasn't a cell as we know it - it didn't require the use of bacteria. He said he was really close. I want to say it's based on silicon, but I think that memory was created from too many years watching "Star Trek".

Re:Since I love being pedantic (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881377)

So in other words, it's kind of like the iPhone being hacked so that anyone can write and run code? If God releases a firmware update, do NOT apply it!

Re:Since I love being pedantic (3, Insightful)

lbbros (900904) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881517)

Well, at least in the name, BACs (Bacterial Artificial Chromosome) and YACs (Yeast Artificial Chromosome) have been used for years. Granted, they're mostly used for cloning (IIRC), but by concept, they already exist.

Has someone got a link to a more scientific-oriented explanation? Current details are a bit scarce to me.

Re:Since I love being pedantic (1)

Captain Vittles (1096015) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881995)

You're right, a synthetic chromosome itself isn't exactly new, so I suppose I was a little overenthusiastic about that point. What's novel about this article's subject is that the genes were selected to result in a new functioning organism, and not just selected as a way of transmitting new genes into an existing organism, or as a method of cloning.

I don't have any links either, as I didn't find anything that could stand alone as a decent reference. Mind you, I also didn't look very hard.

Re:Since I love being pedantic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20881571)

If you love being pedantic, you should learn the meaning of "enormity."

Re:Since I love being pedantic (1)

Captain Vittles (1096015) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881763)

enormity /nrmti/
-noun, plural -ties
1. outrageous or heinous character; atrociousness: the enormity of war crimes.
2. something outrageous or heinous, as an offense: The bombing of the defenseless population was an enormity beyond belief.
3. greatness of size, scope, extent, or influence; immensity: The enormity of such an act of generosity is staggering.

Global Warming??? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20880937)

"This ability to write genetic code could result in new ways to combat global warming..."

That's the kind of claim that tells me that he's fishing for funding, nothing more.

Super-Bacteria (3, Insightful)

Nymz (905908) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880979)

FTA - Bacteria could be created, he speculates, that could help mop up excessive carbon dioxide
Hmm, this reminds me of the all too common science-fiction storyline of the perfect plan going to hell. I doubt other bacteria, grass, trees, flowers, and plants consider the current levels of carbon dioxide to be 'excessive'. And if this super-bacteria does such a good job, that it starves out those other organisms for food, then there could be some serious global problems.

Bah, why am I so worried, I'm sure they will keep it safely contained like they have for rice [washingtonpost.com]

and I am creating a new work of literature (4, Interesting)

semiotec (948062) | more than 6 years ago | (#20880991)

with the writing of this post!

From just a fast read of the article, I think the claim "creating" a new life is a bit exaggerated.

It's pared down from the genome of a pre-existing species and probably permuted the organisation of the genes on the chromosomes, therefore not much "creation" was involved, they just figured out what genes are not essentially for cell/organism viability and removed them. Granted, a LOT of work had to have been done to stitch together the final artificial chromosome, but still, I think it would be more correct to say it's an artificially _modified_ chromosome rather than created.

Gene therapy labs often play with the HIV virus, by taking out the nasty bits and put in replacement genes, to study whether it is an effective delivery system.

Scientists have difficulty predicting function and structure of known/natural proteins/genes, let alone making new ones. However, gene modification is very common, for example, GFP (green fluorescent protein) is commonly modified to fluoresce other colours. And genome paring is also pretty common, there was a group that removed 5 MB (megabases) from mouse genome and the mice still looked and behaved normally _in_the_lab_, can you claim that they were a new species of mouse?

Last I heard, the Mayo lab (http://www.mayo.caltech.edu/research.html) has created a completely novel gene which produced a protein that folded as they predicted it would. I haven't followed up on the progress since then.

Sure, it took tremendously amount of effort, but it's still exaggeration. An example, perhaps a bit unfair, but it's like saying people who pared down Windows installations by removing non-essential files are "creating" new operating systems.

Re:and I am creating a new work of literature (1)

SpinyNorman (33776) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881093)

I think it would be more correct to say it's an artificially _modified_ chromosome rather than created.

In terms of the design that's true - he cut bits out rather than designed new bits (that will come next).

But in terms of building it, it seems it's accurate to say he created it, and certainly that it's artificial. The article says he built the DNA "from laboratory chemicals" which I assume means it was synthesized (not the first to do it - the polio virus has already been synthesized from raw chemicals) rather than the result of gene splicing.

Re:and I am creating a new work of literature (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881373)

Ok, but if we can pull a life apart and piece it back together again, I'd say we've come a long way. Combine that with the evolutionary(!) design and you can really have something going. Start putting in and removing bits and pieces of code in big numbers, and we're well on the way to reverse engineering what all these bits do. I'd think the first step would be to strip away everything that's not essential, then starting to see how it fails. And I think artifical life doesn't have to be from scratch. If you think of it as a computer program, the basic "event loop" to maintain the organism isn't that important to reinvent, if we can make them do new things, look different, act different that's new life good enough to me.

Playing God? (2, Insightful)

LucidIconoclast (1138991) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881017)

Craig Ventner, when asked about the risks of 'playing God' in the creation of a new form of microbial life responded
"My colleague Hammie Smith likes to answer: 'We don't play.'"

There's no denying the man has good ideas, and that this one has enormous potential. Unfortunately his egoism seemingly avaricious nature have put off many in the scientific community. Let's hope these factors don't slow this important development.

Bio-weapons (0, Redundant)

freya_bacchus (764907) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881023)

This ability to write genetic code could result in new ways to combat global warming and new drugs, but it could also lead to new bio-weapons."
Not hard to figure out which will get the most funding.

I get scared (1, Interesting)

MichailS (923773) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881029)

DNA science is a Pandoras' Box.

How long until someone accidentally or willfully creates a pandemic plague?

During my life I have heard enough misanthropes announce opinions that we are all a scourge on the poor planet and that it would be better if we all dropped dead. I don't hold it for impossible that such a person with the right skills and tools might succeed doing it.

great (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20881117)

"but it could also lead to new bio-weapons."

Because that's what we need more of....

He should patent his wording as well ... (2, Insightful)

foobsr (693224) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881357)

"a very important philosophical step" — anybody else wondering how this guy defines 'ethics' ?

CC.

This would only be a hack. (3, Insightful)

Flying pig (925874) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881383)

Basically he is trying to demonstrate that you can write biological code onto a delivery vehicle and insert it into a functioning cell. It's the equivalent of writing the "Hello world" program from scratch and having it compile and run. It is intended to confirm what we already believe - i.e. that if you arrange DNA bases in the correct sequence, no additional magic is needed for a cell to decode it. So why do I find this annoying?

I don't know if Venter made the overhyped claim but it will surely come back to bite science. Creationists and other voodoo merchants will surely seize on this as an example of scientists claiming far too much, and use it as ammunition to discredit science in the eyes of their followers (I started by typing "foolowers" but how many people nowadays know what it means when you write [stet] after a happy mistype?).

Nobody can claim to create artificial life until there is a complete self-reproducing unit built from inorganic chemicals from the ground up. I don't know how long it will be before that happens, (diminishing resources may mean it never happens - we may have much more urgent tasks for scientists over the next 50 years or so.) but this isn't it. It looks like it is an important technical advance, but it is on a level with, say, the development of the CNC machine, and the claims in the media are about as accurate as if someone had written "With the development of the CNC workstation, we have created self-reproducing robots in the laboratory.

Re:This would only be a hack. (3, Insightful)

Teancum (67324) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881601)

I would have to agree with you on a general principle that A-life through biological means would mean using chemical processes like a biological laboratory or perhaps something akin to an oil refinery, and taking raw elements in the form of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen, and assembling those elements as a living thing that can self-replicate, given some basic nutrients.

I have heard of an eventual goal of creating a completely artificial eukaryote by some bio-researchers. The idea here is to try and figure out what the absolute minimum requirements would be necessary in terms of a genetic sequence that would still allow for self-replication. Sort of a biological equivalent of a RISC processor or perhaps even something of a biological equivalent of the Brainf*** programming language. Such an organism would have profound implications and even value in terms of biological research, where you could test different genetic sequences in a simple but known environment that wouldn't be fighting with billions of years of genetic evolution. In "the wild", such a simple organism would also face incredible competition and would likely be killed by nearly everything it would encounter, so mad monsters from a lab experiment would not likely cause many problems... at least with the basic A-life eukaroyte.

I agree that this is something that is decades away from being developed, but things such as writing a genetic sequence is certainly an important step to creating such living things.

Code kitty! (2, Interesting)

DrBuzzo (913503) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881387)

So basically he wrote a whole new chromosome... only... he did so by copy and past from a chromosome that already existed and worked... then just cut out the parts not wanted or needed and threw in a few other pieces of genetic code. None of this really implies that the scientist knows how the code works entirely, or that he came up with it on his own. In programming we have a term for this...

well... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20881407)

I, for one, do /not/ welcome our new transgenic, apocaylpse-causing microscopic overlords.

Is anyone else afraid? (0, Troll)

dgr73 (1055610) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881443)

Microsoft Man 1.0

Re:Is anyone else afraid? (2, Funny)

NotQuiteReal (608241) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881473)

Microsoft Man 1.0 is too geeky. I'd call him Bob.

Re:Is anyone else afraid? (1)

Alexandra Erenhart (880036) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881481)

I wouldn't want to know about the kind of bugs this one would bring with it...

He didn't create it... (3, Funny)

Assassin bug (835070) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881505)

He followed a template from Mycoplasma genitalium [wikipedia.org] . Venter calls his sexy little chimera Mycoplasma laboritorium. I, for one, feel suspicious about our new genital-disease-derived overlords.

itslifejimbutnotasweknowit? (0, Offtopic)

ihop0 (988608) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881603)

I sometimes wonder if people who come up with pithy tags realize they're totally useless. How many posts do people expect to fall under itslifejimbutnotasweknowit & notlifefromnonlife?

Re:itslifejimbutnotasweknowit? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20881943)

They're useless, perhaps. But I have to say some of them do make me chuckle. And frankly, that's more useful than a hypothetical organizational scheme that I've never once used.

An analogy for Slashdotters (1, Insightful)

mhackarbie (593426) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881671)

Some comments above seem to either overestimate or underestimate the importance of what Venter is anticipating. Here is a computer-based analogy for what he is doing: it's equivalent to being able to boot to a new operating system of your choice.

Some people under-estimate the potential significance by saying that we've been able to insert new genes in organisms for quite some time. That is true, but it misses the point, because for the first time the complete genome (operating system code) can be replaced with a different externally supplied version. That is a very significant and important capability, as it allows you to escape from the constraints of an existing operating system.

However, because it relies on the existing hardware (protein synthesis machinery, metabolic enzymes, etc.), it's not the same as creating a whole new computer system (hardware and software) from scratch. In the beginning, of course a lot of the new genes will just be copies of those from existing genomes. But just like free/open-source software, having complete control of the OS will enable a much faster rate of development of new code.

Complete assembly of ALL of the biomolecular components of a cell from basic non-living building blocks will certainly be another great milestone in biotechnology. But just as with computers, I personally expect advances in biotechnology will occur with much greater speed and diversity by modifying the software (genes) as opposed to the hardware.

mhack

IT'S NOT A CHROMOSOME (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20881699)

IT'S A GIANT PLASMID!!!
WHERE ARE MY BIOCHEM GEEKS???
They just stitched together a giant friggin plasmid, that's it.

If they made a chromosome, great, that would be awesome because no one can do that yet, but it's a plasmid, sure, a fully working one, but still just a loop of DNA.

They educated people writing these articles...

What a load of crap (1)

Orig_Club_Soda (983823) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881743)

He didnt create life, he created DNA. And just like any programming it will probably fail at first.

Congratulations (1)

alexj33 (968322) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881801)

Congratulations.

You've just proven that it takes intelligence and a lot of hard work to create life.

This isn't artificial life. (3, Informative)

Ingenium13 (162116) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881821)

While it would technically be considered a different species (though perhaps in the same genus as the parent species), I wouldn't consider it artificial life. All they did was repeatedly remove genes and see if the organism was viable. They still have no idea how most of the genes and regulation actually work. Simply modifying an organism doesn't constitute artificial life unless you consider dog breeds or other things we've created by breeding. By the same notion, it's not considered artificial life when a new custom chromosome (called a plasmid) is inserted into a bacteria or eukaryotic cell. It's done all the time and has been since the 80s. All they did was get rid of "extraneous" genes that they don't deem necessary. They're trying to make a designer organism to synthesize/produce compounds. This is one step in achieving that, though it was arguably unnecessary. The hard part is creating genes/proteins to make it do what you actually want. This involves creating a new biochemical pathway (or modifying an existing one), probably creating new enzymes to recognize your intermediates, designing ER and golgi receptors to recognize their finished product and target it for excretion from the cell, creating proper regulation of this pathway, etc, etc. As you can see, it's very complicated. No one has successfully created their own enzyme or protein yet, let alone an entire biochemical pathway of them.

Artifical Life Created! (1)

Essequemodeia (1030028) | more than 6 years ago | (#20881935)

God who?

Released under? (1)

deviated_prevert (1146403) | more than 6 years ago | (#20882057)

I just wonder if his code will be released under GPL2 or 3..if it is released under GPLv3 then it might taint my kernel! God help us if it is released under a bsd license.
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