Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Synthetic DNA on the Brink of Yielding New Life Forms

The cobbling together of life from synthetic DNA, scientists and philosophers agree, will be a watershed event, blurring the line between biological and artificial -- and forcing a rethinking of what it means for a thing to be alive.

"This raises a range of big questions about what nature is and what it could be," said Paul Rabinow, an anthropologist at the University of California at Berkeley who studies science's effects on society. "Evolutionary processes are no longer seen as sacred or inviolable. People in labs are figuring them out so they can improve upon them for different purposes."

(Via PAG E-News.)

Then again, have we ever truly viewed evolutionary processes as "sacred"?

1 comment:

dr. x said...

"Then again, have we ever truly viewed evolutionary processes as 'sacred'?"

Yes and no, depending on how those terms are defined, understood, what the long-term consequences might be, how safeguards are derived, and just who you're asking. I can give a qualified "maybe" that is state-dependent, but I suspect the majority of those adhering to any major mainstream religion would disagree. This is a truly fundamental issue.

One question: if we, as "natural" biological forms, gain the ability to override "normal" evolutionary processes or can directly intervene in modifying or synthesizing life itself, is not that newly realized development a form of consciously evolving evolution itself? If not, why not? Or, if so, why?

Very provocative article, both for what it said, and what it didn't say. Synthetic biology presents some truly vast potentials and deep problems.

If, for example, you could drink a soup of modified, synthetic bacteria or virii to greatly enhance your or your children's physical and intellectual capabilities, would you? Or, more apropos, _should_ you? This should be a major personal and even political, moral, and ethical matter for the public to contemplate the penultimate ramifications of.