Life, Unnaturally

May 23, 2010

This is a time in history full of experiences of life and death through earthly upheaval, natural and man-made. This article in the WSJ is, for me, very and upsetting. A private research institute, J. Craig Venter Institute, has announced that at a cost of $40 million they have engineered a synthetic cell, actually a bacterium. the findings will be published  in Science Express.

What does that mean? Physically, ethically and spiritually that seems all wrong to me.

From the article by Robert Lee Hotz: ” this opens the way to the manipulation of life on a previously unattainable scale, several researchers and ethics experts said. Scientists have been altering DNA piecemeal for a generation, producing a menagerie of genetically engineered plants and animals. But the ability to craft an entire organism offers a new power over life, they said.”

They also have “ownership” of this cell. The issues that this engineering feat bring up are massive. The company notified the White House, Congress and officials from several government agencies. The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a public hearing on the new cell technology next week.

Friends of the Earth’s genetic technology policy campaigner, Eric Hoffman, responded:

“Craig Venter’s lab has taken genetic engineering to an extreme new level. These new synthetic chromosomes mimic billions of years of evolution.

“We must ensure that strong regulations are in place to protect the environment and human health from this potentially dangerous new technology. We are far from actually understanding how genes affect the development of life, but it could be difficult to prevent Venter’s synthetic biology experiments from eventually entering the natural ecosystem and acting as invasive species, choking out natural living things.

“The Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration must receive this announcement as a warning bell, signifying that the time has come for our government to fully regulate all synthetic biology experiments and products. It is imperative that in the pursuit of scientific experimentation, we do not sacrifice human health, the environment, and natural ecosystems. Mr. Venter should stop all further research until sufficient regulations are in place.”

ETC Group, a group based in Canada, called for a global moratorium on synthetic biology. Read more about extreme genetic engineering.

The Asimilar Conference in 1975 addressed ways of dealing with potential risks and hazards of biotechnology. Biologists, lawyers and doctors Attended the conference and made voluntary guidelines to ensure the safety of recombinant DNA. For example, “containment should be made an essential consideration in the experimental design. A second principle was that the effectiveness of the containment should match the estimated risk as closely as possible…. the use of biological barriers to limit the spread of recombinant DNA. In addition to biological barriers, the conference advocated the use of additional safety factors.”

Aside from the presently unregulated health safety issues, the ethical and moral issues are immense, too. I will be interested to watch the debate that follows this news.

Via: Arthur Greenwald

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