Monday, December 17, 2007

Creation of New Life Forms: the next step for DNA?

This article fascinated me. Scientific breakthroughs, especially revolving around the use of DNA science--and the ethics of it--always gets my attention. But this article was a mixture of fascination, awe--and fear. There also remained the lingering question in my mind of whether this could really be true--that researchers are indeed considering taking this next step--or if just simply a rumor spawned by someone's overactive imagination.

You can read the Washington Post article, and decide for yourself: whether the prospect of creating new life forms--synthetic life forms--from artificial DNA should be considered a scientific breakthrough--or a major mistake, and what questions it raises about science, religion, ethics and the very essence of genetics.


SabrinaW said...

This gives me the heebee-jeebees, both on a procedural level and on a substantive level. I will approach this purely from a consequentialist perspective and leave deontological concerns to someone else.

The issue of a few corporations patenting the "operating system" mechanism already has precedents that show the tendency toward economic and social injustice. Additionally, this reeks of the same economic determination that has led to numerous violations of safety standards in GMO crops - public and ecological safety should never be sacrificed for economic gains.

Substantively, I do not trust our understanding of genetics and reproduction of organisms enough to support this type of research. I also do not trust our use of biocontainment measures - given the disturbing levels of cross-contamination from invasive species and GMOs, we still have a long way to go before we ought to feel secure in pursuing this research. While overlapping into the realm of sci-fi, I would bank on a possibility of a new level of biological competition between these "new types" of life and the ones we are familiar with. Given our ineptitude at preserving endangered genomes, would we really be ready to take urgent preservative action? Lastly, I am friends with several code-monkeys, so I know how much debugging is needed to eliminate the most egregious bugs in a program. We use a programming paradigm for biological systems, which is great, except that if you get the wrong "bug" in an artificial organism, it could prove lethal and uncontrollable since one mistake in installing self-regulating mechanisms would mean there would be no checks on growth of the new organism. And we may not get a second chance to "debug" it. Think "Ice-9".

wreese said...

Very well said, Sabrina. I echo your thoughts on this. My hair stood on end when I read the article. The timing for this type of research to move forward is just wrong right now.