And potentially very useful too.
This article on MSNBC says scientists in a Florida lab have created a synthetic genetic system capable of Darwinian evolution. Translation: a synthetic life form. No, really. It is not self sustaining yet, but it really is evolving on its own. The main goal of the project is to help NASA understand what to look for as signs of alien life on other planets (one would presume it would be helpful in detecting alien life on this planet also, just in case any aliens decided to drop in unannounced), since life may develop in radically different ways in different environments. Twelve DNA building blocks were used to create the life form instead of the usual four, which makes it hard to confuse the ‘genetic system’ with natural life, but also makes it more versatile – which is important because another goal of the project is to make biotech easier. Here’s the money quote:
“The underlying goal of synthetic biology is to make biology easy to engineer,” said Drew Endy, a bioengineer with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “When I want to go build some new biotechnology, whether it makes a food that I can eat or a bio-fuel that I can use in my vehicle, or I have some disease I want to try and cure, I don’t want that project to be a research project. I want it to be an engineering project,” he said.
I have said before I am all about the biotech revolution, and the Singularity, and so on. I applaud the ideals of the scietists working on this project, and the goal of understanding how life develops, and of course curing disease and making our lives better. But we have people creating actual life forms here, ones that evolve all by their little selves. Doesn’t it seem the tiniest bit egotistical to think we can make them evolve only into what we want? Sure, right now we are just talking about a puddle of goo in a beaker, but it isn’t going to stay that way, is it? And does this remind anyone else of some pretty scary sci fi stories?