March 12, 2009

Artificial Life In Five Years?

Experts believe the so-called "second genesis," or the creation of a new artificial lifeform, is getting closer and closer, the Telegraph UK reported on Thursday.

Researchers call this an achievement that would be one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs of all time.

And while building a new lifeform from scratch is a daunting task, Professor David Deamer from California University said he is confident it can happen in five to 10 years.

"The momentum is building - we're knocking at the door," he added.

Everything from new drugs to biofuels and greenhouse gas absorbers could possibly be produced by a synthetic, made-to-order living system.

However, it is controversial research and critics fear the technology could lead to machines becoming "almost human".

The New Scientist reported that there would likely be no safety issues for a long time, as any initial organisms would be very primitive and need large-scale life support in the lab.

Professor George Church and Dr. Michael Jewett of Harvard Medical School announced they had synthetically created part of a cell, called a ribosome, during a recent synthetic biology conference in Hong Kong.
Church even said the possibility of creating an entire cell would be a relatively minor challenge.

"There's nothing you'd expect to go wrong - the way we expected things to go wrong with the assembly," he said.

"Until you actually try this you won't know," said Dr. Anthony Forster, of Vanderbilt University, Tennessee, who is also creating a synthetic living cell in a test tube with Church.

Forster added that science already knows cells can do it, therefore "we should be able to do it sooner or later."