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Evil Bible quotes a 2002 Science paper detailing the artificial synthesis of a virus from its DNA.

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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Even after my edits, this contains a lot of implicit assumptions: (a) that the synthesized virus is much more than a "bunch of amino acids" - can't both be right? (b) That viruses are alive. Controversial, at best. (c) That duplicating an existing organism counts as creating novel life. –  Oddthinking Nov 13 '11 at 15:37
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@Oddthinking good edit. Considering that the answer I provided has new data, it may serve as a good segue question to the correct information. –  Larian LeQuella Nov 13 '11 at 16:43
    
another one: does cloning (which has been done) count? Or cross breeding (which has also been done)? Or selective breeding, DNA synthesis (injecting genes into an organism's DNA)? All have been done and are widely published and available for use. –  jwenting Nov 14 '11 at 7:13
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Jim - I think @LarianLeQuella's answer gives a definite yes. –  Rory Alsop Nov 14 '11 at 9:15
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I got this interactive flash show helpful regarding artificial creation of life- pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/make-microbe.html –  Gulshan Nov 19 '11 at 0:25
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1 Answer 1

up vote 34 down vote accepted

Well, your data (and the website you quote) is a bit out of date, we can do much more now.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.

Scientists have created the world's first synthetic life form in a landmark experiment that paves the way for designer organisms that are built rather than evolved.

(Snip)

The new organism is based on an existing bacterium that causes mastitis in goats, but at its core is an entirely synthetic genome that was constructed from chemicals in the laboratory.

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.

EDIT TO ADD: Now we have "XNA" (a totally synthetic genome) on the way.

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I had heard of the baterial shell but that is more akin to reprogramming an existing computer than creating a new one. I think the desire is to know about life created from completely sterile origin. Mostly it appears this is taking an existing lifeform and changing it. Still interesting though. –  Chad Nov 14 '11 at 2:01
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@Chad, you are correct, and I note that caveat in my answer. Although, keep in mind that one ought to walk before one runs. First it was a virus reconstructed in 2002, then writing new DNA for a bacteria in 2010. What can be done in the lab will obviously become more elaborate as time and techniques advance. And learning about the natural process that this happens through is why I included the link to the 88 papers. And don't discount the "reprogramming" as an easy feat. This is writing DNA, not compiling a new C+ program... –  Larian LeQuella Nov 14 '11 at 2:07
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One day, atheists will claim that life is created while christians will yell that all life evolves :) –  Jim Thio Nov 14 '11 at 8:03
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@FrankH, the article states that they wrote new DNA code that made this life form totally different from any that previously existed on the earth. –  Larian LeQuella Nov 17 '11 at 0:43
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@FrankH, you are correct, when they say at its core is an entirely synthetic genome that was constructed from chemicals in the laboratory. they did a lot of copying of an existing genome. The watermarks helps "highlight" the organism should it become mixed in with other organisms. Not to say they aren't working at it: bu.edu/abl/files/nature_synthetic_genome.pdf And, they still took non-living matter in test tubes (or whatever) and turned it into instructions that caused a cell to "become" living matter. –  Larian LeQuella Nov 17 '11 at 2:46
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