On the Brink of Artificial Life

Is there something special about being "alive"?

Most would answer with a resounding "YES!" but that is a perception that gene pioneer and mad scientist extraordinaire, J. Craig Venter, would like to change in time. 

Venter claims to be no more than weeks, or perhaps a few months, away from creating the world's first free-living artificial organism--a tiny bacterium with only a few hundred genes. But it cracks the door open to the beginning of "bigger and better" things. What "things" these may be remains to be seen, and may only be limited by someone's perverse imagination.

Venter's company, Synthetic Genomics, Inc. is not the only company out there vying for the position of God, as if it was suddenly vacant. Codon Devices, Inc. sells synthetic strands of DNA, and EraGen Biosciences makes DNA from basic building blocks not found in nature, opening the door to new forms of life.

Opponents to these new creations warn about the real dangers of these technologies landing in the wrong hands. DNA can just as easily be put together into never before encountered malicious life forms as it can be devised for good. And right now there is no such thing as "biosafety officials" overseeing the containment of these creations.

With all that said, these scientists still seem fuzzy on the fundamental premise that there's much more to LIFE than throwing together some DNA and have the concoction survive. For more information about your DNA and what makes you "special," see my article DNA Insights Will Transform Science and Medicine.

BusinessWeek June 19, 2007