Scientists Striving to Create Life Out of Nothing

Illustration for article titled 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."


Photo: Julián Rovagnati/Shutterstock




The title seems particularly misleading... The scientists themselves never say that they are trying to synthesize life, but create an organism that does more than merely replicate. IOW the cells are evolving from other live cells that have in the lab.

I do know that there are quite a few labs that are working on synthesizing life - in an article in WIRED ([] talks about the first synthesized ribonucleotides. Now that was interesting. Apparently there is some consensus that RNA is what they are really needing to "create" and that things should advance quickly from there. Creationists be damned - not that this will do anything to sway them since you know all dinosaur bones were actually put here by God to create a vast scientific conspiracy (or for 6000 year old humans to ride) since carbon dating was manufactured by the Devil to undermine God's authority, but thats another post I suppose.