Leading article: Dr Venter's research has thrilling possibilities

Share
Related Topics

It was predictable that the news that scientists have made an artificial living cell would be greeted with jeremiads about Pandora's box, Frankenstein's monster and geneticists playing God.

It also provoked rather a good gag about God no longer being a chap with a long white beard but one with a short white one, in the form of the genome specialist behind the breakthrough, Dr Craig Venter.

What Dr Venter and his team have done is a major technical advance. They have painstakingly taken chemicals, constructed an artificial piece of DNA and inserted it into a living cell to create a new self-replicating entity. It unleashes all kinds of potential developments and could herald the start of an industrial bio-revolution. How real that prospect is has been made clear by the disclosure that the oil company Exxon has $600m invested in Dr Venter's business and BP sits on his board. It could well win Dr Venter the Nobel Prize.

That said, this is not the creation of artificial life. The scientists have used an existing cell as the vehicle for the new genome. And the medium in which they synthesised what they produced was live yeast cells in which they created their new artificial chromosomes to inject into live host bacteria cells. This is a long way from creating life from bottles of inert chemicals. There are a marathon of steps before anyone could address the issues of complexity – even the yeast cells are 10 times more complex than the so-called synthetic cell – let alone the consciousness which is essential to even low forms of animal life.

Of course, in the research which is to come scientists must consider how the spread of this knowledge should be policed. There are highly sensitive areas of bioscience which must not be abused. Care must be taken at each stage to ensure researchers are not about to step into an arena with unknowable consequences. But we are a very long way off any of that, even with the ingenious technical advance Dr Venter and his colleagues have pioneered.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery Assistant Plymouth

£10000 - £20000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd...

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Psychology Teacher

£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
No supporters react to results in the Scottish independence referendum at The Marriott Hotel in Glasgow as ballet papers are counted through the night.  

Scottish referendum results: Thank you, thank you, thank you to the No voters – the Union is saved

Andy McSmith
Prime Minister David Cameron speaks during a visit to Scottish Widows offices in Edinburgh, where he made an impassioned plea to keep Scotland part of the union, saying he would be  

Scottish referendum results: David Cameron did the right thing, so why does Scotland’s vote feel like a defeat?

John Rentoul
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week