Synthetic Biology Breakthrough: Programming Life on Your Computer Screen

Usually I don’t post on weekends but the amazing scientific developments of the last couple of days demand that I do so.

Underneath you will find a short summary, some informative videos, relevant links and initial commentary by me and others on Craig Venter‘s breakthrough creation of synthetic life.

This first clip is the original press conference where Dr. Venter provides a brief chronology of the project and discusses some of the ethical and potential practical implications thereof.

The Unveiling of Synthetic Life

The second video is the consequent Journal Science video interview with J. Craig Venter about the first synthetic cell.

Notable Quotes by Craig Venter:

“This is the first self-replicating species that we have had on the planet whose parent is a computer.”

“Cells are software driven biological machines.”

Some initial reactions:

The Washington Post says of J. Craig Venter that “Either he is one of this era’s most electrifying scientists, or he’s one of the most maddening.”

Freeman Dyson: “I feel sure of only one conclusion. The ability to design and create new forms of life marks a turning-point in the history of our species and our planet.”

Ray Kurzweil: “This will essentially enable us to design new life forms at a computer screen.”

Eric Hoffman of Friends of the Earth: “We must ensure that strong regulations are in place to protect the environment and human health from this potentially dangerous new technology.”

Bioethicist Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania wrote a commentary in the journal Nature saying:

“Venter’s achievement would seem to extinguish the argument that life requires a special force or power to exist. In my view, this makes it one of the most important scientific achievements in the history of mankind.”[…]”Their achievement undermines a fundamental belief about the nature of life that is likely to prove as momentous to our view of ourselves and our place in the Universe as the discoveries of Galileo, Copernicus, Darwin and Einstein.”

Socrates: The creation of a synthetic cell is among the first steps on the road towards the creation of multi-cellular “dumb” artificial life. Eventually, that road will lead to the creation of “smart” artificial life organisms and, ultimately, the moment of singularity. What happens then will determine the fate of humanity and possibly that of the universe…

Relevant Documents from the J. Craig Venter Institute:

Press Release

Frequently Asked Questions

Fact Sheet

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