When I was in school, I heard that the most humans can do is to create a bunch of amino acid.
Which one is right?
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Well, your data (and the website you quote) is a bit out of date, we can do much more now. In 2010, Dr. Craig Venter actually used a bacterial shell and wrote DNA for it. Thus we have gone beyond the viruses mentioned in the 2002 paper.
Keep in mind, this is only a synthetic genome, not a truly unique organism created from scratch. Although I am confident that the technology will become available in the future. As has been pointed out, the entire genome wasn't built de novo, but rather most of it was copied from a baseline which was built up from the base chemicals with no biological processes, and then the watermarks were added (still damn impressive since they took inorganic matter and made a living cell function with it). But they are working at building a totally unique genome from scratch (PDF).
This is actually quite an emerging field, so much so that the MIT press has set up an entire series of journals for this. As far as to the purpose of these artificial organisms, most research funded by companies are meant to be for specific purposes that biology hasn't solved yet (such as a bacteria that eats a toxic waste or something). Although, a lot of people are concerned about scientists venturing into the domain of theology.
In terms of abiogenesis, there are many resources to learn more about this. Here is a list of 88 papers that discuss the natural mechanisms of abiogenesis (this list is a little old, so I am sure that there are many, many more papers at this time).
I also found this list of links and resources for artificial life. I cannot verify the usefulness of this since the field is a bit outside my area of expertise. However, it does seem quite extensive.
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