Playing God for the first time…
by Julian Savulescu
With his new paper Craig Venter is creaking open the most profound door in humanity’s history, potentially peeking into it’s destiny. He is not merely copying life artificially as Wilmut did or modifying it radically by genetic engineering. He is going towards the role of a god: creating artificial life that could never have existed naturally. Creating life from the ground up using basic building blocks.
At the moment it is basic bacteria just capable of replicating. This is a step towards something much more controversial: creation of living beings with capacities and natures that could never have naturally evolved.
The potential is in the far future, but real and significant: dealing with pollution, new energy sources, new forms of communication. But the risks are also unparalleled. We need new standards of safety evaluation for this kind of radical research and protections from military or terrorist misuse and abuse. These could be used in the future to make the most powerful bioweapons imaginable. The challenge is to eat the apple without choking on the worm.
Other posts in PracticalEthicsNews on synthetic biology