Creating life from scratch?

There is always “one more link” for today… This time – news about an old subject – how to create “life” by assembling genetic components.

Here is the link.

They’re mixing, matching and stacking DNA’s chemical components like microscopic Lego blocks in an effort to make biologically based computers, medicines and alternative energy sources. The rapidly expanding field is confounding the taxonomists’ centuries-old system of classifying species and raising concerns about the new technology’s potential for misuse.


J. Craig Venter, the entrepreneurial scientist who mapped the human genome, announced last month that he intends to string together genes to create from scratch novel organisms that can produce alternative fuels such as hydrogen and ethanol.

With a $42.6 million grant that originated at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Berkeley researchers are creating a new malaria drug by removing genetic material of the E. coli bacterium and replacing it with genes from wormwood and yeast.

“We’re building parts that can be assembled into devices and devices that can be turned into systems,” said Jay Keasling, head of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Berkeley synthetic biology department, which was created last year.

Someone said once that genetics will be for the XXI century what Physics was for the XX century. I don’t think that he was far from truth… 

Comments (4)

  1. Shaun Bedingfield says:

    Your snippit doesn’t mention the possibility for mistakes. The genetic structures that exist today have a significant resiliance to mutation. Something beneficial could easily turn malevolent even if it is well created.

    I also haven’t heard that we really understand how DNA works. Yes, everyone learns the basics in chemestry but we still haven’t found genes for certain traits in existing organisms.

    I think that most areas of genetics are probably going to be too complex for us for a long time. Genetic computers sound novel but getting them to do anything significant sounds very challenging.

    The mix and match building of organisms is about where we are right now and I am not sure if it is entirely safe. Building organisms from scratch is probably a long way off. Maybe we need to ask Victor Frankenstein for his opinion?

  2. Paul Bartrum says:

    Shaun: To address your first point, I don’t understand why people think mutations are malevolent. Since malavelence implies consious intent, mutations are actually less likely to produce something malevolent. Of course, if you meant simply that mutations could cause the organisms to fail, then that is a possibility. I expect they’ll use a technique similar to what the chipmakers use, where they test the final product and throw away the defective units.

    To address your other point, I think we understand how DNA works. To draw a parallel, just because you know machine code (DNA), doesn’t mean the understand what a one million line program (a gene) does. On the other hand, if you know the underlying code, then figuring out the rest of it is just a matter of time (with a bit of blood, sweat and tears mixed in).