Scientists on the verge of creating life
|by Regis Nicoll|
If you thought it couldn’t be done—well, think again. According to a recent release, scientists are confident that they will create artificial life within a decade. If you wonder what they mean by “create” and what they mean by “life,” Mark Bedau, chief operating officer of ProtoLife of Venice, Italy, explains that researchers will make a cell “from the basic chemicals in DNA.” This “protocell” will have
- A container, or membrane, for the cell to keep bad molecules out, allow good ones, and the ability to multiply.
- A genetic system that controls the functions of the cell, enabling it to reproduce and mutate in response to environmental changes.
- A metabolism that extracts raw materials from the environment as food and then changes it into energy.
Sounds like a mighty tall order to me, even if you believe that life is nothing more than a bag a chemicals in the right quantities and right configuration. Come to think of it—wouldn’t it be a whole lot simpler to start off something with all the ingredients in place, like a dead biological cell and figure how to bring life back into it?
Anyway, it is hoped that once this cell is created, Darwinian evolution will take over to produce cures for diseases and solutions to vexing problems like toxic waste and greenhouse gases. As Jack Szostak of Harvard Medical School put it, "We aren't smart enough to design things, we just let evolution do the hard work and then we figure out what happened.”
One can imagine that in a bygone time, "God" would have occupied the space that "evolution" occupies in that sentence. But that was long time ago, as Mr. Bedeau suggests, "This will remove one of the few fundamental mysteries about creation in the universe and our role."
Except, where all those chemicals came from in the first place, and how they ended up in “just right” proportions in “just-right” conditions for a “just-right” period of time to produce that primordial cell.