It’s Alive!

This week, scientists created artificial life.

Well, sort of.

Truth is, once you snip away the press release puff and spin, it’s more a case that scientists copied life.

Here’s how the BBC reported what happened: ‘The researchers copied an existing bacterial genome. They sequenced its genetic code and then used synthesis machines to chemically construct a copy.’

In other words, they took an existing template, tweaked it, put it inside a host, and sent it went about its merry way, reproducing itself.

This a bit like taking a Dell computer, buying one of those generic computer cases, replacing the hard drive, and claiming you invented the PC.

Well OK, it’s a bit more than that. Like you built a new hard drive from existing components. Using really tiny parts.

So don’t buy the hype. What Craig Venter and his team achieved is impressive, but it’s no miracle breakthrough. And depending on how you define life, they’re not even the first. Scientists created a polio virus in a laboratory eight years ago.

The polio breakthrough didn’t make as many front pages. Perhaps that’s because the scientists worked in a university, and were more interested in advancing knowledge than patenting it.

By Gerard Cunningham

Gerard Cunningham occupies his time working as a journalist, writer, sub-editor, blogger and podcaster, yet still finds himself underemployed.