Science of man-made life can proceed: White House playing God

Science of
man-made life can proceed: White House
Dec 16
11:10 AM US/Eastern
The White House on Thursday said
the controversial field of synthetic biology, or manipulating the DNA of
organisms to forge new life forms, poses limited risks and should be allowed to
proceed.
An expert panel convened by President Barack Obama advised vigilance and
self-regulation as scientists seeks ways to create new organisms that could
spark useful innovations in clean energy, pollution control and medicine.
The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues “concluded
that synthetic biology is capable of significant but limited achievements posing
limited risks,” it said in its first report.
“Future developments may raise further objections, but the Commission found
no reason to endorse additional federal regulations or a moratorium on work in
this field at this time.”
The panel was created by Obama last year. Its first order of business was to
consider the issue of synthetic biology after the J. Craig Venter Institute
announced in May it had developed the first self-replicating bacteria cell
controlled by a synthetic genome.
Critics said the discovery was tantamount to “playing God,” creating
organisms without adequate understanding the ramifications, and upsetting the
natural order.
Announcing the creation of the “first synthetic cell,” lead researcher Craig
Venter said at the time it “certainly changed my views of the definitions of
life and how life works.”
But the commission said Venter’s team had not actually created life, since
the work mainly involved altering an already existing life form.
“Thoughtful deliberation about the meaning of this achievement was impossible
in the hours that elapsed between the breaking news and the initial round of
commentaries that ensued,” it said in its report.
“Of note, many scientists observe that this achievement is not tantamount to
‘creating life’ in a scientific sense because the research required a
functioning, naturally occurring host cell to accept the synthesized genome.”
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