Have Scientists Really Created a New Life Form?

By Jack Wellman |

Posted 2:28 pm on May 23, 2010

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The big news headline was that Craig Venter created a new life form from a test tube. It is a single-celled organism and Dr. Venter claims that the implications are enormous.  It has been called a landmark achievement.  Humans have never successfully created life on their own before. Up to now, creating life from non-life has been credited only to God and humans have failed repeatedly to do so. So is this really a new life form?  Does this mean mankind can now create life forms from non-living, inorganic matter?  Not so fast.

Dr. Craig Venter hails it as “the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer.” and “the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer”. This new cell called Synthia, was the result of copying the genetic code from a bacterium that infects goats and then transferred that synthetic genome to a cell. The cell managed to function and replicated, but was it a true genesis of a life form, from scratch? No.

First of all, the genetic code was copied from an already existing cell.  And reactions to Venter’s accomplishment have received criticism from other scientists.  Even while it was hailed as the creation of artificial life, there are many scientists who flatly disagree.  They say that the reaction was overblown, taking issue with Venter’s claim of having created a truly synthetic cell and responses from scientists are not in the minority but are coming from all corners of the science world.

Dr. Venter did not actually create a new life form, but in fact copied a pre-existing genome from an already existing cell. It’s like they took a car body, with all the wiring and components still in it, and placed an engine inside, and then claimed they invented a brand new car.

“To my mind Craig has somewhat overplayed the importance of this,” said David Baltimore, a leading geneticist at Caltech. Dr. Baltimore described the result as “a technical tour de force” but not breakthrough science, but just a matter of scale…. “He has not created life, only mimicked it,” Dr. Baltimore said in The New York Times.

Rather than creating a stand-alone new life form cell, experimenters point out that Dr. Venter got a big boost by placing the synthetic genome in a preexisting cell, which was naturally inclined to make sense of the transplanted DNA and to turn genes on and off.  In other words, without the preexisting cell, Synthia would never have had a chance. Thus, the scientists say that it’s not accurate to label the experiment’s product a true “synthetic cell.” 

Meanwhile, physicist Freeman Dyson backed his way into paying the researchers a compliment in his own inimitable way: 

This experiment, putting together a living bacterium from synthetic components, is clumsy, tedious, and unoriginal. From the point of view of aesthetic and intellectual elegance, it is a bad experiment. But it is nevertheless a big discovery. It opens the way to the new world of synthetic biology. It proves that sequencing and synthesizing DNA give us all the tools we need to create new forms of life. After this, the tools will be improved and simplified, and synthesis of new creatures will become quicker and cheaper. Nobody can predict the new discoveries and surprises that the new technology will bring.

One question is whether or not a DNA sequence alone is enough to generate a living creature. One way of reading the paper suggests this doesn't seem to be the case because of the use of old microplasma cells into which the DNA was inserted — that this is not about "creating" life" since the new life requires an existing living recipient cell.

“My worry is that some people are going to draw the conclusion that they have created a new life form,” said Jim Collins, a bioengineer at Boston University, saying, “What they have created is an organism with a synthesized natural genome. But it doesn’t represent the creation of life from scratch or the creation of a new life form”.  

The theory that life began when proteins, DNA, and RNA were formed by chance, or at least by chemicals coming together…whatever you want to call it, is one that can never have conclusive proof (A biogenesis). And that also goes for the origination of the DNA/RNA. Every single science experiment that has ever been attempted to form life has revealed that amino acids don’t form as readily with any kind of stability. The amino acids that did manage to form during experiments, immediately tended to break apart every time.

Amino acids come in two forms called right and left-handed because one is a mirror image of the other. Proteins which contain all left-handed amino acids will connect correctly with the surrounding proteins. However, if a right-handed amino acid is included, the shape of the protein is changed and the protein will not work in a living cell.

Scientists have not been able to cause amino acids dissolved in water to join together to form proteins. The energy-requiring chemical reactions that join amino acids are reversible and do not occur spontaneously in water. The conclusion is that since scientists have no idea how life originally formed, and human attempts at creating life by experiment have failed miserably, time after time.

Dr. Richard Dawkins and evolutionists believe that simple chemicals became concentrated in the ocean, making an organic broth of ever more complex chemicals out of which life emerged. Amino acids are essentially, the building blocks of life, and can form via natural chemical reactions unrelated to life.

Paul Keim of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity said that there is no new hazard because the Venter team manufactured a genome whose structure and function were already understood and that the researchers didn’t create a novel life form.

The Venter team stopped short of creating new cells with new functions. Instead, it manufactured a Mycoplasma mycoides genome that was virtually identical to the natural one and used it to make cells that were also nearly indistinguishable from the natural cells as testified by Gregory Stephanopoulos, a professor of chemical and engineering and biotechnology at MIT.6.

So a preexisting cell was necessary and it is not accurate to label the experiment’s product a true “synthetic cell.” So it is not a true synthetic cell. It is only a mimic.  It is mislabeled as a "new life form".  It is not one at all, but a mimic and one that of necessity, had to use the copy of the genome of an already, existing cell and not a cell of its own making.  “My worry is that some people are going to draw the conclusion that they have created a new life form,” said Jim Collins, a bioengineer at Boston University, saying, “What they have created is an organism with a synthesized natural genome. But it doesn’t represent the creation of life from scratch or the creation of a new life form”.


Tags: Craig Venter, DNA, life, science




about the author:
Jack Wellman
http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/author/jack/

My name is Jack Wellman. I am a pastor, a Christian author, and have been a freelance writer for ten years & have 4 books listed on Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, etc. to raise funds for the homeless and for missions.

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