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ETpro's avatar

Artificial life, a good or bad idea?

Asked by ETpro (34594points) May 22nd, 2010

Daniel Gibson and his colleagues at the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland in Rockville Maryland successfully removed the DNA from a bacterium and replaced it with synthesized DNA of a different bacterium, creating a new living bacterium. The new cell has reproduced and now numbers in the billions. “With this approach we now have the ability to start with a DNA sequence and design organisms exactly like we want,” says Gibson.

This technology holds incredible promise for designer cells to cure human disease, digest oil spills and organic pollution, convert biomass efficiently into energy and much more. But it also carries great risk of unintended consequences. We could inadvertently release a bio-agent that attacks numerous species including humans. Worse, a rouge state like North Korea might deliberately weaponize it.

What do you think of the this research. Should we ban it or proceed? If we did ban it, how would that prevent secretive rouge states from doing it anyway? If we proceed, how should we regulate it to avoid unintended consequences?

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7 Answers

ETpro's avatar

PS, to late to edit, but I meant “rogue state like North Korea” and not “rouge state”. :-)

Boy is my face red.

mattbrowne's avatar

Good idea, if the scientists are very, very careful. The effort will increase our scientific understanding of life.

ETpro's avatar

@mattbrowne Wow, that’s for sure. I can see a near infinite number of positive uses. But care and stringent oversight will be a must, because there are probably an equally vast number of deliberate or accidental misuses.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ETpro – I think it might be easier to design bacteria dealing with dangerous calcification of arteries than nanorobots. They could also “eat” LDL cholesterol.

ETpro's avatar

@mattbrowne They could eat oil spills and enhance the environment with the by-products of their feeding. Wouldn’t that be a handy bacterium right about now. While there is obviously great risk of deliberate misuse of the law of unintended consequences biting us, it would seem the promise of beneficial uses is so manifest that we must proceed, only with extreme caution.

mattbrowne's avatar

@ETpro – Yes, it would, but it would require months of testing. What of the artificial bacteria mutate in way that they would not only destroy the oil, but the food of fish in our oceans?

ETpro's avatar

@mattbrowne Ther is actually already bacteria out there that does that. It eats oil, but consumes so much oxygen that it creates dead zones, something that BP using chemical dispersants to break up and sink the oil will likely make worse.

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