Scientists welcome, wary of first synthetic cell

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Dr. Craig Venter, who announced that he had created the first synthetic cell.

In an unprecedented accomplishment, scientists have produced the first synthetic cell. At a cost of $30 million, this one-cell organism could be the key to begin producing a complete organism.

David Magnus, the director of the Stanford University Center for Biomedical Ethics, spoke to David Lazarus today on the Patt Morrison show and described how monumental the discovery is.

“They’ve been able to create an artificial strand of DNA that constitutes the whole genome of an organism,” Magnus stated, “What it means is that we are launching a new era in genetic engineering.”

This historical scientific breakthrough is already being touted as a “turning point in the relationship between man and nature,” Magnus said.

While some scientists are salivating at the thought of transforming genetic engineering, this momentous advancement also revives the discussion of ethics in science. The debate revolving around manipulating life is not new and is very divisive, but Magnus believes that the argument has certain lines in the sand.

“Most theological traditions actually don’t have prohibitions on creating such life forms as long as they don’t involve creating humans.”

But he was quick to point out that there are some grave concerns.

“The worries that people have about this is that potentially this could be a tremendous tool for bioterrorism. Up until now there are many protections to prevent bioterrorism — for example, small pox, who only a limited amount of people have access to.

"People could replicate existing pathogens or create potentially more viral new ones. One of the things we need as we go forward is that we have enough regulations and security.”

Businesses stand ready to take advantage of the new synthetic biology field, investing money in hopes of breeding industrial life forms that can secrete fuels, vaccines, or other marketable products. One such example is Synthetic Genomics Inc., which has a $600 million contract with Exxon Mobil to design algae that can capture carbon dioxide and make fuel.

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