The act of creation – or just scrapheap challenge?

It was fairly predictable that last Saturday’s headline in the Guardian about Craig Venter’s latest synthetic biology activitiesI am creating artificial life, declares US gene pioneer – would generate some reaction from that paper’s readers. The form of that reaction, though, wasn’t, as one might have expected, outrage about scientists “playing God”, or worries about the potential dangers of a supercharged version of genetic modification. Instead, the paper printed yesterday an extended response from Nick Gay, a biochemist at the University of Cambridge.

This makes the (to me, entirely reasonable) point that you can’t really describe this as creating life from scratch; it’s “as if he had selected a set of car parts, assembled them into a car and then claimed to have invented the car”. Gay’s own research is into the intricacies and complexities of cellular signalling, so perhaps it is not surprising that he thinks that the thinking underlying Venter’s approach is “the crudest and most facile kind of reductionism”. It would be interesting to know how widely his point of view is shared by other biochemists and molecular biologists.

1 thought on “The act of creation – or just scrapheap challenge?”

  1. Ooh My – It is getting so confusing. Reading Dr. Gay’s response and then watching the howls engages as the crew read the responses afterwards. Of course it is a case of the ever voracious Dr Venter going to the stockroom of knowledge and building a new ‘Something’, and then waxing voluminously about ‘His’ achievement. Isn’t that akin to the thespian standing upon the stage with ‘His’ new interpretation of the Bard? I suggest it is.

    Yet in a related story, casting back a notch in the Soft Machines Blog, and quoting from a comment I made on the Penn State World Campus Blog – Terra Incognita. –

    ‘You will know that you have had an impact, that positive change has occurred when you walk into the lunch room of an Inner City school and hear young people talking about ‘The guy who invented the Ipod got a Nobel Prize’, this happened to me yesterday. While the facts are a bit wonky and the context is a bit off, what it meant was the kids had being paying attention to a blog posting I had flagged during an outreach session that morning while discussing Nanotechnology.
    Out of that exchange, the original seven I had been talking to in the morning, swelled to seventeen and we went further into discovering exactly what he real story was.
    ‘We researched the archives and found the original reporting, [1991-94] and the sound of ‘Wow’ could be heard around the room. Not only was the content relevant to the learners, had a context relating to something in their reality, the process of getting the information show them tools they could use for further exploration.’

    This fits because of the relationship I made on the time line when commenting about ‘Nobels, Nanoscience and Nanotechnology’ – – and the time line relationship between the discoveries of Stuart Parkin and the Nobel won by Dr. Richard R. Ernst for his work in nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy [NMR], a tool used by Dr. Gay.

    I suggest it would serve Dr. Venter well to acknowledge those who have plowed the ground, laid the foundation, and created the tool which make his discoveries possible.

    As far as inventing a ‘New Life Form’, I suggest ‘Different’ is the more appropriate term.

Comments are closed.