Creation of Earth's 1st Synthetic Life

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PostThu May 27, 2010 4:35 pm » by Torofamily

torofamily wrote:Creation of Earth's 1st Synthetic Life: Could There be Unintended Consequences?
Published on 05-27-2010
by Freeman Dyson


This is “the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer.”

Dr. Craig Venter -pioneer of the human genome

2010 might be looked back on as the year of the Earth's first non-biological self-replicating species. The genome pioneer J. Craig Venter has taken another step in his quest to create synthetic life by synthesizing an entire bacterial genome and using it to take over a cell.

In his famous essay, Why the Future Doesn't Need Us, Silicon Valley scientist and software engineer, Bill Joy warns about possible dangers of genetic engineering using a work of fiction as a possible scenario. In The White Plague, by Frank Herbert - a molecular biologist is driven insane by the senseless murder of his family. To seek revenge he constructs and disseminates a new and highly contagious plague that kills widely but selectively.

Joy asks why weren't people more concerned about possible nightmarish scenarios of future genetic creations? Part of the answer, he says, "lies in our bias toward instant familiarity and unquestioning acceptance. Accustomed to living with almost routine scientific breakthroughs, we have yet to come to terms with the fact that the most compelling 21st-century technologies - robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology - pose a different threat than the technologies that have come before. Specifically, robots, engineered organisms, and nanobots share a dangerous amplifying factor: They can self-replicate. A bomb is blown up only once - but one bot can become many, and quickly get out of control."

Self-replication is the modus operandi of genetic engineering, which uses the machinery of the cell to replicate its designs, and the prime danger. Self-replication may be more fundamental than we thought, and hence harder - or even impossible - to control. A recent article by Stuart Kauffman in Nature titled "Self-Replication: Even Peptides Do It" discusses the discovery that a 32-amino-acid peptide can "autocatalyse its own synthesis." We don't know how widespread this ability is, but Kauffman notes that it may hint at "a route to self-reproducing molecular systems on a basis far wider than Watson-Crick base-pairing."

Parasites are the most likely to acquire and transfer genes between species, and Venter synthesized the genome of a parasite, Mycoplasma mycoides, which targets vertebrates and is resistant to various antibiotics. Horizontal gene transfer also plays a significant role in the acquisition of antibiotic resistance which can be conveyed to a new bacterial host. These genes interact with yet other genes to provide resistance even to newly invented antibiotics.

The epoch of Darwinian evolution based on competition between species ended about ten thousand years ago, says Freeman Dyson, of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton in a more upbeat note, when a single species, Homo sapiens, began to dominate and reorganize the . Since that time, cultural evolution has replaced biological evolution as the main driving force of change.

Cultural evolution is not Darwinian. Cultures spread by horizontal transfer of ideas more than by genetic inheritance. Cultural evolution is running a thousand times faster than Darwinian evolution, taking us into a new era of cultural interdependence which we call globalization.

And now, as Homo sapiens domesticates the new biotechnology, we are reviving the ancient pre-Darwinian practice of horizontal gene transfer, moving genes easily from microbes to plants and animals, blurring the boundaries between species.

In a recent article in the New York Review of Books, Dyson sees the world as moving rapidly into the post-Darwinian era, "when species other than our own will no longer exist, and the rules of Open Source sharing will be extended from the exchange of software to the exchange of genes. Then the evolution of life will once again be communal, as it was before separate species and intellectual property were invented."

Dr. Venter calls the result a “synthetic cell” and presented the research as a landmark achievement that will open the way to creating useful microbes from scratch to make products like vaccines and biofuels according to The New York Times.

“This is an important step, we think, both scientifically and philosophically,” Dr. Venter said in an interview with the journal Science, which is publishing the research this week. “It’s certainly changed my views of definitions of life and of how life works.”

Evolution, it has been said, does not take place in small steps, as Darwin claimed, but in leaps after long periods of stasis. We have to wonder if the next great leap will be one of our own creations.

Casey Kazan via New York Times

Image: The self-replication process of the isolated gene of Eschericha Coli bacteria. Through a fast and inexpensive technique sometimesreferred to ‘molecular photocopying’ (or more commonly ‘Polymerase Chain Reaction’, PCR), small segments of DNA are amplified in real-time. The speed of the self-replication is exponential - after just one cycle there are two new DNA, and after 30 cycles over a billion in a few hours.

cant wait to see where this tech goes
:ohno: :ohno: :ohno:

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PostThu May 27, 2010 5:13 pm » by Kingz

Creating Organs From Our Own Stem Cells
Posted Mon, 2009/03/30 - 07:42 by Fred Lee in Drugs & Treatments

If you think that creating body parts in the laboratory is the stuff of science fiction, think again, because the field of regenerative medicine has made the synthesis of human tissue an exciting reality, and the implications for organ transplantation, not to mention for medicine as a whole, are enormous.


Regeneration is a process that utilizes the body’s own cells and machinery to replace lost or damaged tissue. Under ordinary circumstances, when we are injured, cell death occurs at the damaged site, which in turn alerts the immune system that there is a problem. The body’s “immune response” is to send in white blood cells to clean things up while the body repairs the damage. The ensuing scar tissue heals the wound, but prevents any further cell growth from occurring.

With regenerative medicine, by employing a structural element that every living animal has, doctors have been able to halt the scarring process and instead coax the body into restoring the tissue and thus replace what has been lost through injury or disease. That structural element in question is known as extra-cellular matrix, or ECM.

ECM is made up of proteins and some complex sugars, or polysaccharides, and is often referred to as a type of “scaffolding” to which cells are bound. In other words, the cells in our body aren’t just floating around inside of us, something holds them together (with the exception of blood, of course), and that something is the ECM.

At one time it was believed that the ECM had simply a structural purpose to hold the cells in place, but it is now known that it plays a much larger role, influencing such things as cell form, development, and function. In fact, when we are in the womb, the ECM interacts with stem cells to direct the development of the human body, though it is believed that once the fetus is fully developed, the ECM ceases to operate in this capacity.

However, with the addition of “external” ECM, which is often derived from pigs, doctors are hoping that the seemingly dormant ECM can be awakened into activity, and in fact, that appears to be exactly what can happen, as seen in the flesh, no pun intended, on a recent episode of Oprah.

In the story in question, Lee Spievack, a hobby store owner, accidentally sliced off the tip of his finger, and had the misfortune of misplacing the severed piece. Under normal circumstances, he would have been resigned to a skin graft followed by a life with a compromised digit and some scar tissue, but these were not ordinary circumstances.

It turns out that his brother was Dr. Alan Spievack, a doctor and a pioneer in the field of regenerative medicine. He gave Lee some powdered ECM extract to put on his injury, and after about four weeks, the digit actually grew back, fingernail and all. It is instructive to note that the patient did not lose his entire finger, but just a piece of it.

What happened is the pig-derived ECM signaled the body to stop the immune response and instead begin the process of replacing the lost tissue, much like what occurs in a fetus, except that it happened in an adult body. What’s truly amazing is that doctors are able to replicate what happened on the man’s fingertip in the laboratory.

Using the fact that the cells necessary to regenerate already exist in our tissue, they just need to properly “encouraged” to begin the regenerative process, Dr. Anthony Atala and his laboratory at Wake Forest University are growing everything from muscle tissue to complete organs from a patient’s stem cells. Furthermore, using Dr. Atala’s technique, doctors in Philadelphia have actually succeeded in transplanting laboratory grown bladders that were created from the patients own cells.

The significance of these breakthroughs cannot be overstated. The ability to generate healthy organs outside the body gets around the current problem of long transplant waiting lists, and because the organs are derived from the patient’s own tissue, it eliminates the possibility of organ rejection, not to mention the need for complicated immunosuppressive regimens that have potentially dangerous side effects.

In lieu of all this, it may be fair to say that the field of medicine will never be the same, and supports the idea that stem cell technology will play a significant role in the cutting edge techniques that will improve the health and well-being of people the world over. ... stem-cells

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Imagine re-growing a severed fingertip, or creating an organ in the lab that can be transplanted into a patient without risk of rejection. It sounds like science fiction, but it's not. It's the burgeoning field of regenerative medicine, in which scientists are learning to harness the body's own power to regenerate itself, with astonishing results. Correspondent Wyatt Andrews brings you to the scientific frontier.

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Replacing organs or tissues with lab-created counterparts; engineered kidneys, livers and hearts. Science fiction? Not any more -- scientists are already successfully growing all kinds of organs and tissues in the lab.

All 50 Secrets of the Sequence videos have an accompanying classroom-tested lesson that encourages students to further explore the video topics. Each lesson includes background information, state and national science standards, discussion questions and answers, teacher notes and an activity that will ensure a hands-on, "minds-on" experience. To see lessons for this series, visit

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15 minute excerpt from Raymond Kurzweil's March 5, 2008, lecture at the University of Arizona. Presented as part of the College of Science's "The Edges of Life Lecture Series." Raymond Kurzweil, who appeard via Teleportec Teleporter, is Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Kurzweil Technologies.
The Map Is Not The Territory, The Word Is Not The Object....

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