Bioethicist Gregory Kaebnick, Ph.D., has an interesting take on the recently announced synthetic cell created by a team of researchers led by J. Craig Venter at the J. Craig Venter Instititute (JVCI). In a recent article in The Scientist entitled Is the “Synthetic Cell” about Life?, Kaebnick writes:
…the technical accomplishment is not quite what the JCVI press release claimed. It’s hard to see this as a synthetic species, or a synthetic organism, or a synthetic cell; it’s a synthetic genome of Mycoplasma mycoides, which is familiar enough. David Baltimore was closer to the truth when he told the New York Times that the researchers had not created life so much as mimicked it. It might be still more accurate to say that the researchers mimicked one part and borrowed the rest.
The explanation from the Venter camp is that the genome took over the cell, and since the genome is synthetic, therefore the cell is synthetic. But this assumes a strictly top-down control structure that some biologists now question. Why not say instead that the genome and the cell managed to work out their differences and collaborate, or even that the cell adopted the genome (and its identity)? Do we know enough to say which metaphor is most accurate?
Kaebnick raises an interesting point: is this synthetic cell life? If we grant that it is, what are the implications for either evolution or ID, if any? My initial thought is that what Venter et.al created is not life. In that respect, I think David Baltimore got it right in the above quote.
Still, its worth considering, is this life? If so, why? And, what are the implications for ID and/or evolution. Its hard to see how this helps evolution in that design is everywhere in the experiment. Indeed, if this cell does qualify as life, then it is clearly purposely, intelligently designed life.
I’d be interested in what the readers and posters here on UD think about all this.