Scientists Striving to Create Life Out of Nothing

It doesn't get more science fictional (or pseudo-scientific) than creating life out of thin air, right? Not true, says a group of researchers who say the key to cooking up new organisms in a lab isn't far off, NYT reports.

Scientists like Gerald Joyce of the Scripps Research Institute think we're close to creating molecules that mimic all the diversity, mutations, and spontaneity of life. And we're already making important steps, the NYT explains:

Four years ago Dr. Joyce and a graduate student, Tracey A. Lincoln, now a researcher at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, evolved a molecule in a test tube that could replicate and evolve all by itself, swapping little jerry-built genes in a test tube forever, as long as it was supplied with the right carefully engineered ingredients.

But self-building molecules do not a new life form make: "We really would hope for more from our molecules than just replicating," says Dr. Joyce.

Once lab creations can "act" on their own—breeding in ways beyond their original molecular programming—we'll have arrived at a genuinely novel organism. From scratch. And it'll be a big, big deal:

"The ability to synthesize life will be an event of profound importance, like the invention of agriculture or the invention of metallurgy," Freeman Dyson, a mathematician and physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, wrote in an e-mail. "Nobody can tell in advance what will come of it."

[NYT]

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