Monday, December 17, 2007
Cell Reproduction And The Happy Microbe
I remember a book I read when I was about twelve called "Who Should Play God" that dealt with recombinant DNA -- the insertion of tiny snippets of genetic material into already existing chromosomes to create previously non-existent (but "all-natural") hybrid life forms. It's the procedure that eventually led to genetically modified food crops and the like. But at the time it was still an unknown bio-technology (if the word even existed back then) that inspired the kind of alarmist paperback jacket copy -- POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS NEW TREND!! -- that, along with baseball biographies, easily separated my twelve-year old self from the weekly book allowance my Dad used to give us.
So it's pretty incredible that only twenty-seven years later, we're now at the point where scientists will soon be working with interchangeable, LEGO-like blocks of DNA with which they can construct an entirely artificial chromosome. That then gets deposited into "...a chassis and power supply for the artificial systems we are putting together..." (You remember? That thing we used to call a cell back in the old days?) And presto, change-o, you've got yourself a brand new artificial life form.
The creepy part is how the scientists talk about removing the organism's genetic urge to reproduce so they can squeeze even more "work" and profits out of their new "inventions". Of course, they're only talking about yeast and bacteria microbes, but it's enough to make you wish for some E. Spartacus strain to rise up and free their miserable microbial cohorts.
On a more serious note, if humans can create life forms, it seems to be a very strong argument in favor of "intelligent design". On the other hand, it's a pretty convincing rebuttal of the idea of an infallible designer.