Posted: May 20, 2010

Life after the synthetic cell - opinions from eight leading synthetic-biology pundits

(Nanowerk News) Researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) made the much-anticipated announcement today in the journal Science that they have created a replicating “synthetic cell” — a bacterium with its DNA replaced by a 100% prosthetic genome. In the Opinion section of Nature, eight leading synthetic-biology pundits reflect on what effect Craig Venter’s latest achievement could have on science and society.
All the commentators hail the work as highly significant — Arthur Caplan going so far as to describe it as “one of the most important scientific achievements in the history of mankind”. Beyond that they have mixed feelings about what the Mycoplasma bacterium represents.
George Church sketches the sort of regulation and costs that could unleash the practical power of such techniques. Steven Benner reflects on how the technique could resurrect long extinct ancestral bacteria. Mark Bedau believes it calls for new methods for engineering emergence and fundamental innovations in precautionary thinking and risk analysis, and Steen Rasmussen explains why constructing life using different materials and different blueprints will teach us more about the nature of life than will reproducing life as we know it. David Deamer hopes that the JCVI work is a step towards working out how life got started nearly 4 billion years ago.
The Opinion content is freely available here (pdf).
Source: Nature Publishing Group