We’re understanding enough about genetics and biology that we’re getting closer to creating artificial life. The folks that made the breakthrough in finding quick and cheap ways to decode DNA are taking the knowledge and trying to build artificial life. They started by taking the simplest life, life with the fewest genes (525), and introducing artificial genes. As they understand which new genes are successful and which old genes can be removed they are transitioning to a bacterium that will eventually be 100% new genes. They’re now down to 473 genes, but don’t know what a third of them do. Their goal is partly academic, can they make artificial life and thereby understand the essence of life; and partly commercial, can they make life that makes or does things that can’t be done any other way. Ethical debates will intensify, and will be dramatically affected by the efficacy of their results. Some will always be against artificial life. Some will always be for innovation. The balance of the debate will probably be decided by the people in the middle comparing the risks and the rewards. If they created life that could clean up nuclear reactors (not just nuclear waste) would that be worth the risk?
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