Scientists Create Artificial Life

Bacteria with Synthesised DNA
Scientists in the US have succeeded in creating artificial life in a development which promises to revolutionise biotechnology. The research opens the way for scientists to create new life forms that can be genetically programmed to carry out a variety of functions, such as producing carbon-free fuel or made-to-order vaccines and providing new forms of food and clean water. However, the study also raises ethical concerns about the technology falling into the wrong hands, and, for instance, being used to make biological weapons, or by scientists to "play God" with life.

The research team, led by controversial scientist Craig Venter, who previously directed one of the teams which decoded the human genome, said he had created synthetic life in the form of a new species of bacteria that operates entirely under the control of a man-made set of genetic instructions, originally stored on a computer. They synthesised the genome of a bacterial cell and used it to "boot up" the empty cell of another species of bacteria, which then replicated freely as if it were carrying its own set of genetic instructions instead of a set made in a laboratory. It is also reported today that US President Barack Obama has asked his bioethics advisers to study and report on the research findings and that the US House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee has also scheduled a hearing for next week to discuss the implications of the development. Dick Ahlstrom has more on this story in today's Irish Times.

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