Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Synthetic Life Breakthrough by Craig Venter

In the above TED talk, recorded last week, Craig Venter unveils the first Synthetic Life, a reproducing, prokaryotic (single-cell life) creation that is coded in a one-million base-pair DNA string. This is a real breakthrough that will, in the near future, enable rapid synthesis of vaccines and perhaps even microbes that will rapidly eat spilled oil and even replace natural oil with oil manufactured out of atmospheric CO2. This is very important stuff!

To create their DNA string, they copied code sequences from existing life forms and they made use of yeast to grow the DNA and they implanted it into a de-nucleated cell. So, although the DNA was made from "four bottles of chemicals", the work would have been impossible without the use of existing, living life forms. Therefore, they have not created life in the laboratory, only showed they could arrange the code at the base-pair level and that it would, indeed, reproduce itself. To prove it was synthetic, they imbedded the names of a few dozen scientists, their website, and a few historical quotes. Thus, anyone who may sequence that DNA in the future will know it is synthetic.

Howard and I have, over the two past decades, gone round and round about Arificial Intelligence and Artificial Life. Now, Synthetic Life is both more and less than Artificial Life. Artificial Life would be constructed out of non-organic materials, such as copper and silicon computer parts, which would be far more of a breakthrough. Unlike Synthetic Life, it would be able to operate at higher and lower temperatures and would be less subject to atmospheric gasses, and so on. That would make Arificial Life a better candidate for spreading human-developed civilization to other planets and solar systems (of course, without the humans).

Ira Glickstein

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