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warjournal
Maniac (V) Mad Scientist

From:
Insane since: Aug 2000

posted posted 11-21-2002 13:40

I'm kind of excited about this. Then again, the potential for fucking this up are pretty high. Not just with the organism itself, but with psychos using this against fellow man.
Ugh.

-----------------

Scientists Planning to Make New Form of Life

By Justin Gillis
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 21, 2002; Page A01

Scientists in Rockville are to announce this morning that they plan to create a new form of life in a laboratory dish, a project that raises ethical and safety issues but also promises to illuminate the fundamental mechanics of living organisms.

J. Craig Venter, the gene scientist with a history of pulling off unlikely successes, and Hamilton O. Smith, a Nobel laureate, are behind the plan. Their intent is to create a single-celled, partially man-made organism with the minimum number of genes necessary to sustain life. If the experiment works, the microscopic man-made cell will begin feeding and dividing to create a population of cells unlike any previously known to exist.

To ensure safety, Smith and Venter said the cell will be deliberately hobbled to render it incapable of infecting people; it also will be strictly confined, and designed to die if it does manage to escape into the environment.

More worrisome than the risk of escape, they acknowledged, is that the project could lay the scientific groundwork for a new generation of biological weapons, a risk that may force them to be selective about publishing technical details. But they said the project could also help advance the nation's ability to detect and counter existing biological weapons.

The project, funded with a $ 3 million, three-year grant from the Energy Department, will start as a pure scientific endeavor, but it could eventually have practical applications. If Venter and his collaborators manage to create a minimalist organism of the sort they envision, they will attempt to add new functions to it one at a time -- conferring on it the ability, for instance, to break down the carbon dioxide from power plant emissions or to produce hydrogen for fuel.

The more immediate plan is to try to puzzle out, and eventually model in a computer, every conceivable aspect of the biology of one organism, a feat science has never come close to accomplishing. Because all living cells are based on the same chemistry and bear striking resemblances to one another, that could shed light on all of biology. "We are wondering if we can come up with a molecular definition of life," Venter said. "The goal is to fundamentally understand the components of the most basic living cell."

The project is not entirely new. Venter launched an earlier version of it in the late 1990s while running a Rockville institute he founded called the Institute for Genomic Research. With his collaborators, he got as far as publishing a working list of the genes apparently required to sustain life in a single-celled organism called Mycoplasma genitalium, the self-replicating organism with the smallest known complement of genetic material. That work indicated that under at least some laboratory conditions, the organism could get by with only 300 or so of its 517 genes. People, by contrast, have an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 genes.

The project fell by the wayside when Venter and Smith launched Celera Genomics Corp., the Rockville company that raced publicly funded researchers to a tie two years ago in compiling draft maps of the entire human genetic complement, the genome.

Venter resigned from Celera early this year in a dispute over its future direction. He is financing a series of new initiatives, including the Institute for Biological Energy Alternatives, the entity that will house a revived project to build the artificial organism. The $ 3 million Energy Department grant, awarded recently, will pay for a staff of about 25 to pursue the project over three years, though Venter and Smith acknowledged it could take longer. Smith, widely considered one of the world's most skilled scientists at manipulating DNA, will direct the laboratory work.

The project will begin with M. genitalium, a minuscule organism that lives in the genital tracts of people and may cause or contribute to some cases of urethritis, an inflammation of the urethra. The scientists will remove all genetic material from the organism, then synthesize an artificial string of genetic material, resembling a naturally occurring chromosome, that they hope will contain the minimum number of M. genitalium genes needed to sustain life. The artificial chromosome will be inserted into the hollowed-out cell, which will then be tested for its ability to survive and reproduce.

Ari Patrinos, a senior Energy Department administrator who will help oversee the project, said the organism was an attractive starting point to create a "minimal genome" because it is so minimal already. "We know even the simplest of cells is incredibly complicated," Patrinos said -- too complicated, at least so far, to understand completely. "This is a case where we're trying to cheat a little bit, to take the smallest and simplest and make it smaller and simpler."

The project raises philosophical, ethical and practical questions. For instance, if a man-made organism proved able to survive and reproduce only under a narrow range of laboratory conditions, could it really be considered life? More broadly, do scientists have any moral right to create new organisms?

A panel of ethicists and religious leaders, convened several years ago at Venter's request, has already wrestled with the latter issue. The group, which included a rabbi and a priest, concluded that if the ultimate goal was to benefit mankind and if all appropriate safeguards were followed, the project could be regarded as ethical.

"I'm less worried about the minimal genome project taking off and creating some kind of monster bug than I would be, partly because I have a sense that the scientists are aware of the possible risks of what they're doing," said Mildred Cho, a bioethicist at Stanford University who was chairwoman of the ethics panel.

Scientists don't usually announce their experiments in advance, but Venter said he felt this one needed to be brought to the attention of policymakers in Washington, since it could create a new set of tools that terrorists or hostile states might exploit to make biological weapons. "We'll have a debate on what should be published and what shouldn't," Venter said. "We may not disclose all the details that would teach somebody else how to do this."

Venter and Smith acknowledged the theoretical risk of creating a new disease-causing germ, but said they would take steps to ensure against that. One of the first genes they'll delete is the one that gives M. genitalium the ability to adhere to human cells. Many of the 200 genes to be deleted will be ones that confer the ability to survive in a hostile environment, so that the end result will be a delicate creature, at home only in the warm nutrient bath of a laboratory dish.

Even if the organism were to escape stringent confinement and enter the environment, Smith said, "it's a dead duck."

© 2002 The Washington Post Company

bodhi23
Paranoid (IV) Inmate

From: Greensboro, NC USA
Insane since: Jun 2002

posted posted 11-21-2002 14:35

That's exciting and scary at the same time! The advances we've made in science in the last few years are simply astounding... But we have to remember what happened with Einstein way back when... Inadvertently, he created the atomic bomb... His studies were also for the good of mankind... Unfortunately, not all mankind is good...
They are right to want to talk about it and get some legislation before they get to far into it. God help us if the details of this project get into the wrong hands...

Bodhi - Cell 617

Suho1004
Maniac (V) Inmate

From: Seoul, Korea
Insane since: Apr 2002

posted posted 11-21-2002 15:00

I don't care what the ultimate goal is (or what they say it may be), there will be someone out there who will figure out how to use this to kill people. It's not for nothing that a good deal of technological advances come about due to military research; ever since one primitive man figured out that a rock was harder than his fist and better for bashing skulls, mankind has been searching for better and more efficient ways to kill people.

That being said, it really would be nice if we could use it for good....

Gilbert Nolander
Maniac (V) Inmate

From: Washington DC
Insane since: May 2002

posted posted 11-21-2002 17:38

So we are Gods. I knew it.



GrythusDraconis
Paranoid (IV) Inmate

From: The Astral Plane
Insane since: Jul 2002

posted posted 11-21-2002 18:32

Nods to Suho

Not only that but, to quote Jurassic Park, "Life finds a way." They're designed to die in an outside environment. PAH! They probably also designed it to breed at an accellerated rate which means it evolves at an accellerated rate. What do they hope to gain from this anyway? Are they going to start stripping genes out of humans to find out what we can live without? And how new can this organism really be? Isn't it just M. genitalium LITE?

GrythusDraconis
Prince of Gold - Lord of Dragons

bodhi23
Paranoid (IV) Inmate

From: Greensboro, NC USA
Insane since: Jun 2002

posted posted 11-21-2002 18:38

It seems like they were roadblocked with the ethics of cloning, so now they're going in another direction... It's still messing with things they shouldn't be messing with... Humans can't control themselves, much less some newly redesigned life form... I wonder if the potential PROS of the issue really outweigh the potential CONS...

Bodhi - Cell 617

Gilbert Nolander
Maniac (V) Inmate

From: Washington DC
Insane since: May 2002

posted posted 11-21-2002 19:13

--Pros--
Creating something that goes into the body and kills all cancer cells.
Creating something that goes into the body and kills all AIDS virus's.
Creating a new plant that is called tomaco. (Simpson's joke - cross between tomato and tobacco)
Creating a human with gills and wings who can breathe under water and fly.

--Cons--
Creating a strange flu like cell that quickly multiplies and lives in any temperature and kills all forms of life.

[This message has been edited by Gilbert Nolander (edited 11-21-2002).]

GrythusDraconis
Paranoid (IV) Inmate

From: The Astral Plane
Insane since: Jul 2002

posted posted 11-21-2002 19:55

I think evolution should determine what happens as far as diseease and cures for diseases goes. I don't think we have the knowledge or the right to interfere with the course of evolution. Personally I think that the dangers inherent in such research far outweigh the possible pros that can come of it. Considering we have no way to know the properties of what we're creating, it could get out of hand before we know it's dangerous. We might exterminate ourselves looking for the cure for some disease that we could evolve to be able to resist.

GrythusDraconis
Prince of Gold - Lord of Dragons

bodhi23
Paranoid (IV) Inmate

From: Greensboro, NC USA
Insane since: Jun 2002

posted posted 11-21-2002 21:48

There are definitely strong PROS for it, which is the reason they're gonna go ahead and do it, regardless of our opinion. The quest for a cure for AIDS and for cancer alone would be reason enough to do it. As well as the possiblilities regarding waste disposal...

It STILL has the potential to be devastating to life as we know it, in a really bad way. In particular, with the current state of international affairs...

Again, I refer you to the Einstein example...

Bodhi - Cell 617

St. Seneca
Paranoid (IV) Inmate

From: 3rd shelf, behind the cereal
Insane since: Dec 2000

posted posted 11-21-2002 23:14

GrythusDraconis, I too at times feel that we should let evolution do it's thing and stay out of its way. Of course, down that path is the days when the crippled and retarded were left on the streets to die. People knew how to keep the gene-pool clean back in those days.

But consider for a moment that it is evolution that has given us the ability to do these things. So evolution has a hand in it whether we find cures now or wait until we naturally develop immunity.

<edit>Oh, and chances are real good that we could screw ourselves to extinction with AIDS before we ever evolve an immunity to it</edit>

[This message has been edited by St. Seneca (edited 11-21-2002).]

bodhi23
Paranoid (IV) Inmate

From: Greensboro, NC USA
Insane since: Jun 2002

posted posted 11-22-2002 14:12

sometimes I think that's what Mother Nature intends...

Bodhi - Cell 617

DL-44
Maniac (V) Inmate

From: under the bed
Insane since: Feb 2000

posted posted 11-22-2002 18:05

personally I find this far more frightening than exciting.

the possibility for catastrophic error seems far too great.



norm
Paranoid (IV) Inmate

From: [s]underwater[/s] under-snow in Juneau
Insane since: Sep 2002

posted posted 11-23-2002 08:15

......and just what would be the moral implications of cloning one of these new organisims? I mean as opposed to cloning lifeforms that have already been hanging around for a while, like sheep, or people, or politicians.



when I know everything, will my brain
stop hurting so much when I code?

Rameses Niblik the Third
Maniac (V) Mad Scientist

From: From:From:
Insane since: Aug 2001

posted posted 11-26-2002 12:50

Simple life forms today, 20-foot electric monsters later today.



Let's face it, why would you want to do something like this unless there was a military benefit to be gained? I don't believe the US government is going to give a group of lab nerds $3 million to come up with something that is by all accounts completely useless.

Unless, of course, they use it to create deadly new biological weapons. That, to a government of a country with a military budget like America, is too good to pass up. They create a supervirus that only attacks people with Middle-Eastern DNA, or only attacks Asians, or whatever, and no one will be able to find a cure for it, because it will be completely alien. That is what it is all about. Creating aliens.

Is the world really ready for such a thing?

S^abaal ud T'a johtizuc^ ult'a Fedaro.

bodhi23
Paranoid (IV) Inmate

From: Greensboro, NC USA
Insane since: Jun 2002

posted posted 11-26-2002 14:46

*shudder* Rameses - you paint a bleak picture...

Bodhi - Cell 617

Rameses Niblik the Third
Maniac (V) Mad Scientist

From: From:From:
Insane since: Aug 2001

posted posted 11-29-2002 11:36

What can I say? In my opinion, the glass is neither half empty nor half full. It's just twice as large as it needs to be.

S^abaal ud T'a johtizuc^ ult'a Fedaro.

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