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The Artificial Creation of Life, A Comment

May 21, 2010

The huge news of the creation of the world’s first truly artificial life-form is currently creating lots of news and comment – as you might expect:

Last night, in a dramatic announcement that led some to accuse him of playing God, Venter said the dream had come true, saying he had created an organism with manmade DNA. The feat, hailed as an epochal scientific breakthrough by some but an alarming development by others, was achieved by scientists at the J Craig Venter Insititute in Rockville, Maryland using little more than a computer, some common microbes, a DNA synthesizer and four bottles of chemicals.

However, this is not the spark of new life where there was nothing, there is still a strong element of mothering and support from existing lifeforms to make this new organism:

One could argue that it isn’t entirely artificial yet, since the artificial DNA is being placed in a cell of natural origin…but give it time. The turnover of lipids and proteins and such in the cytoplasm in the membrane means that within 30 generations all of the organism will have been effectively replaced, anyway.

That said, this is still really important stuff – not least because it firmly places the concept of DNA as information – just as we have developed technologies to manipulate information with ease, so too will the technology of DNA manipulation accelerate. It is hard to see how it could be anything else, given what we know about information and what we know about DNA…

“In biology the basic substance of life is now understood to be made of the information code of DNA. The analogy between life as coded information and software codes running the ‘body’ of cyberspace is too close for the conjectures of an imaginary to miss. The fantasy beneath the cyborgs of cyberspace is that everything, even or especially life, has become information…Here life is just information with no fundamental, ontological distinction between it and library databases. As with all other components of the imaginary this collapse of lie into information also appears to be occurring before our very eyes, driving the urgency that many feel to understand this change.” (Jordan 1999:191)

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