Artificial Life Claim is FALSE!

The research by Craig Venter, http://www.jcvi.org/ (costing some 47 MILLION dollars and 15 years) claiming to have created “artificial life” is just plain FALSE!

When Venter can answer the question ‘What is life?’, that does not include DNA as life. or already living cells as life itself: he can start all over again.

“Dr Venter said his team’s research was scientifically and philosophically important. ‘It certainly changed my views of the definitions of life and how life works.’

His team created the genome of a bacterium, Mycoplasma mycoides, from scratch, using bits of DNA bought from biotech companies. They then transferred it into another type of bacterium and the synthetic genome ‘booted up’ the recipient cells, so they began to replicate and produce M. mycoides proteins.

‘We clearly transformed one cell into another,’ said Dr Venter, who heads the J. Craig Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland. ‘This becomes a very powerful tool for trying to design what we want biology to do. We have a wide range of applications [in mind].'” [1]

The working term above is: “transferred it into another type of bacterium.”

So what is life? Is it the cell? When a cell dies, is it no longer ‘alive’? Or is it still ‘life’, dead or alive?

Friends of the Earth representative, Georgia Miller, can rest easy. “Although we’ve known this day would come for many years, governments have done very little.” [1]

But Georgia. The day has NOT come!

The “synthetic cell” [1] created is just exactly what the description says it is. “His team created the genome of a bacterium, Mycoplasma mycoides, from scratch, using bits of DNA bought from biotech companies.” [1]

So Venter, mixed DNA, then mixed it again with a “another type of bacterium”. The ‘life’ was in that other type of bacterium, as well as the DNA, resulting in a mixed new cellular structure, that was already ‘alive’. Venter is no Frankenstein. Artificial life was NOT created.

“It certainly changed my views of the definitions of life and how life works.” [1]

Since I have no idea what his ‘views’ were, (which are totally irrelevant) about what ‘life’ is, or his ‘views’ (which are also totally irrelevant) about ‘how life works’ might have been before he made such a claim of having created ‘artificial life’, I cannot guess how much or a ‘change’ actually took place. What I can say, is that he never would have proclaimed ‘artificial life’ if he had one single clue what ‘life’ is. His views, like any one of the thousands of different theories about what life is, are not based in ‘what life is’. They have to be based in what ‘life’ does. Did he change his views to justify doing what life does? Or did he define what life does, and wait until now to claim it?

If the other “type of bacterium” were not ‘alive’, his new mixture would not be ‘alive’ either. The ‘life’ of that other “type of bacterium” and the ‘life’ within the DNA he mixed together, gave birth to a new mixture of life. He manipulated an artificial form of conception. The same thing happens in conception of any ‘new’ living organism. Without life already existing, the new life is not life at all.

It seems that Ventor has defined life as DNA. But dead cells have DNA. Perhaps he means that DNA is life but ‘alive’ is not in that equation? His research certainly does not indicate anything remotely close to a created ‘life’. All he has done is mix DNA and then push it into an existing bacterium, already ‘alive’. The result is a new bacterium.

NOT A NEW ARTIFICIAL LIFE: a new manufactured offspring of existing life.

Carl Zimmer, http://carlzimmer.com/ , writing in Wired states:

“They have a lot more tedium to survive before they create new life. And once they figure out how to build a viable genome and get it safely into a host cell, and if the two can cooperate nicely, what else would you expect but for life to emerge?

There is a lot we don’t understand about life, of course, but Venter’s project isn’t going to answer all the questions. We are a long way from playing God. The scientists didn’t assemble the fragments of DNA by themselves, nor did they program robots to do so. Instead, they injected the fragments into E. coli, and let the bacteria do the job themselves. Eventually, it turned out that E. coli could only build up a quarter of the genome. The scientists don’t quite know why. So they injected those big chunks of Mycoplasma DNA into yeast. Lo and behold, the yeast were able to finish up the job for the scientists. They don’t quite know how the yeast did their own biochemical magic either. I would assume that God would have this kind of stuff figured out.”

In vitro fertilization is putting the proper parts together, so biology can take over. Venter did the same thing, only at the DNA level with various parts. It was not artificial life.

To say that it is, without first defining natural life is absurd. It is no different than artificial intelligence research without first defining natural intelligence.

Absurd.

To be fair, this may all be nothing but idiot journalists making it up as they search for headlines. Venter’s press release uses the word ‘life’ in a completely different context.

“The research published today was made possible by previous breakthroughs at JCVI. In 2007 the team published results from the transplantation of the native M. mycoides genome into the M. capricolum cell which resulted in the M. capricolum cell being transformed into M. mycoides. <i>This work established the notion that DNA is the software of life and that DNA dictates the cell phenotype.</i> [Emphasis added.]

In 2008 the same team reported on the construction of the first synthetic bacterial genome by assembling DNA fragments made from the <i>four chemicals of life—ACGT</i> [Emphasis added.]. The final assembly of DNA fragments into the whole genome was performed in yeast by making use of the yeast genetic systems. However, when the team attempted to transplant the synthetic bacterial genome out of yeast and into a recipient bacterial cell, viable transplants could not be recovered.”
[3]

The context in which the term ‘life’ is used by Venter, is not ‘alive’, it is the ‘software OF life’. His work is all about DNA. NOT LIFE.

We have synthesized a 582,970–base pair Mycoplasma genitalium genome. This synthetic genome, named M. genitalium JCVI-1.0, contains all the genes of wild-type M. genitalium G37 except MG408, which was disrupted by an antibiotic marker to block pathogenicity and to allow for selection. To identify the genome as synthetic, we inserted “watermarks” at intergenic sites known to tolerate transposon insertions. Overlapping “cassettes” of 5 to 7 kilobases (kb), assembled from chemically synthesized oligonucleotides, were joined by in vitro recombination to produce intermediate assemblies of approximately 24 kb, 72 kb (“1/8 genome”), and 144 kb (“1/4 genome”), which were all cloned as bacterial artificial chromosomes in Escherichia coli. Most of these intermediate clones were sequenced, and clones of all four 1/4 genomes with the correct sequence were identified. The complete synthetic genome was assembled by transformation-associated recombination cloning in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, then isolated and sequenced. A clone with the correct sequence was identified. The methods described here will be generally useful for constructing large DNA molecules from chemically synthesized pieces and also from combinations of natural and synthetic DNA segments.

The J. Craig Venter Institute, Rockville, MD 20850, USA. [4]

To be sure, Venter and his Institute should be applauded for their work. But it ruins the study of life to cheapen it, to the level of its ‘software’.

Life is not the software. Life is not the cell. Life is not the DNA. Life is what is inside. The cell degrades and returns to its parts without being the sum, when life is no longer present. But nothing is ‘alive’ (has life) unless the life was passed to it from its parent or parents. Frankenstein is FICTION. Venter’s team has performed a wonderful feat. It is not something to be afraid of, and the concern of ‘ethics’ is ridiculous.

We can fault Venter for one thing. His “definitions of life and how life works” was already set to be what he accomplished. Back on Saturday 6 October 2007 , The guardian published “I am creating artificial life, declares US gene pioneer· Scientist has made synthetic chromosome Breakthrough could combat global warming” [5]

“Craig Venter, the controversial DNA researcher involved in the race to decipher the human genetic code, has built a synthetic chromosome out of laboratory chemicals and is poised to announce the creation of the first new artificial life form on Earth.

The announcement, which is expected within weeks and could come as early as Monday at the annual meeting of his scientific institute in San Diego, California, will herald a giant leap forward in the development of designer genomes. It is certain to provoke heated debate about the ethics of creating new species and could unlock the door to new energy sources and techniques to combat global warming.” [5]

So why now? Why not back in 2007? Why 2010? Global warming perhaps? If that is the case, Venter is being rather opportunistic.

Artificial life has NOT been created. A good marketing campaign for the funding by http://www.syntheticgenomics.com/ perhaps?!?!

Reference:

[1] http://www.smh.com.au/technology/sci-tech/breakthrough-as-artificial-life-is-created-20100521-vrsj.html
[2] http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/commentary/dissection/2008/01/dissection_0125
[3] http://www.jcvi.org/cms/press/press-releases/full-text/article/first-self-replicating-synthetic-bacterial-cell-constructed-by-j-craig-venter-institute-researcher/
[4] http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/1151721
[5] http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2007/oct/06/genetics.climatechange