We were discussing scientists ‘playing God’ today in class and the news that a research team has successfully created the world’s first form of artificial life will certainly prompt discussions around ethics and morality.
This breakthrough is already leading to accusations that the scientists involved are ‘playing God’ and tampering ‘with the essence of life’. The life form dubbed “synthia” is a simple bacterium that researchers successfully created from scratch using a unique DNA code created in the lab. The science team headed by Dr. Craig Venter hopes that in the near future “bacterial factories” will be built to develop “useful” bacteria that can do anything from absorb greenhouse gases, produce clean bio fuels, or create new cutting edge medicines.
Here are some reactions –
Julian Savulescu, professor of practical ethics at Oxford University, said: “Venter is creaking open the most profound door in humanity’s history, potentially peeking into its destiny. He is not merely copying life artificially … or modifying it radically by genetic engineering. He is going towards the role of a god: creating artificial life that could never have existed naturally.”
This is “a defining moment in the history of biology and biotechnology”, Mark Bedau, a philosopher at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, told Science.
David King, of the pressure group Human Genetics Alert, called for a moratorium on similar research and Pat Mooney, of the ETC Group, which campaigns against biotechnology, said: “This is a Pandora’s box moment. We’ll all have to deal with the fallout from this alarming experiment.”
Dr Venter, a 63-year-old Vietnam War veteran known for his showman tendencies, said last night: ‘We are entering a new era where we’re limited mostly by our imaginations.’
It is a story worth following as the film Gattaca suggests that science that is not tempered by morality will lead humanity to places where ultimately we do not want to go.