Synthetic genome in living cell round-up: the good, the bad and the ugly

By Grant Jacobs 24/05/2010

As everyone will know by now, a team headed by Daniel Gibson from the J. Craig Ventor Institute have reported the ’Creation of a Bacterial Cell Controlled by a Chemically Synthesized Genome.’

In our little corner of the ’net, I’ve previously pointed to commentary by other scientists (as has Peter Griffin, using other sources) and the TED talk with Craig Ventor presenting the subject is up for your viewing.

Like Carl Zimmer–and countless others–I too feel it’s besides the point of

my doing a big post today, when you [Jerry Coyne] and so many others have laid out all the issues so clearly? Sometimes I feel like the blogosphere doesn’t need any of us in particular. There will always be so many bloggers to handle any subject…

A story this big has everything. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, all in one tangled-up mess.

Worthwhile accounts. Before diving into the more dubious things, a few of the better accounts are worth pointing to (one by a synthetic biologist). Those wanting more depth might like Elizabeth Pennisi’s summary in Science or Jerry Coyne’s question and answer format.  There will be many, many more.

Direct communication efforts. At Reddit, you can ask questions of members of the research team.

Then there are…

Doomsday scenarios. Britain’s Daily Mail declared we’re all going to die. Actually the long headline ends ’but could it wipe out humanity?’ ’Michael Hanlon, Science Editor’ head written under the headline ’Has he created a monster?’ Sigh. But that is the Daily Mail for you…  (Hat tip to Richard Grant.)

Catholic remonstrations. The Vatican were quick in putting forth their views. This also featured on Yahoo! News, drawing, at the time of writing, over 1,700 comments.

Embargo breaks. The Embargo Watch blog has the story of an embargo breach on this news. (Note informative comment.)

White House ethics study commissioned. This isn’t bad per se but the speed at which it has been commissioned reads like a knee-jerk response. Perhaps the American public needs more pacifying than those of other nations? Read The White House Blog’s report ’Synthesized DNA and the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.’ In a letter to Dr. Amy Gutmann (PDF file), the  Barack Obama reassures her that there will be a study commissioned into the ethical issues.

Other articles from Code for life:

Testing common ancestry to all modern-day life

Career pathways for NZ science Ph.D. students

Scientists’ other lives

Aww, crap.

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