And Man Made Life
The title of today’s post is the same as the title of the latest edition of the magazine, The Economist. Their full title is: And Man Made Life: the first artificial organism and its consequences.
A new world emerged recently and many of us missed it. On Thursday, May 20, 2010 the journal Science published an important announcement. For the first time since Genesis chapter 1, life has been created.
Before that date, to the best of our understanding, all life on earth emerged through natural processes. According to this announcement, a new type of life form is now on earth, a synthetic life form. This new life has no ancestors, only a creator, genetic entrepreneur, Craig Venter, whose team designed it in a computer and assembled it in a lab.
(This happened relatively quickly. In 2008, the New York Times reported on the breakthrough that led to this staggering result.) Here is the line from this announcement that I find most provocative:
“The new cells…are capable of continuous self-replication.”
Ladies and gentleman, it’s alive.
If the 20th century was marked by the space race (who will be the first into space?), the 21st century will be marked by a race for genetic enhancements (who will be the first to patent and market designer genes?). The field of biology will define the 21st century.
You Pastors out there, think about this. If a young person today feels a call to the ministry, one of the first questions you should ask is, do you have a passion for biology? The cross disciplinary conversation between biology/ genetics and faith/ theology will be the edge of chaos in the decades to come. This is one reason why the defining question of the 21st century will be, what does it mean to be human?
You’ll notice that I refer to Venter as a genetic entrepreneur. I’m following the Guardian (UK) on this. Here’s a quote of interest:
“Dr Venter became a controversial figure in the 1990s when he pitted his former company, Celera Genomics, against the publicly funded effort to sequence the human genome, the Human Genome Project. Venter had already applied for patents on more than 300 genes, raising concerns that the company might claim intellectual rights to the building blocks of life.”
These concerns about entrepreneurship raise interesting issues. Besides the typical, “are we playing God” question, think about these for starters:
- Will future companies own and sell back to us the building blocks of life?
- Will the codes to a longer life be withheld from those can’t afford it?
- Will future children be designed in computers and put together in the lab?
- What new perspectives on the nuclear family will prevail when neither mothers or fathers are needed to generate the next generation?
On the popular culture side, I’ll be interested to see how the ethical issues may be raised in the upcoming movie, Splice, this summer. In Splice, Genetic engineers Clive (Adrien Brody) and Elsa (Sarah Polley) successfully splice together the DNA of different animals, to create incredible new hybrids. This leads to the next level–using human DNA in a hybrid that could revolutionize science and medicine.
I often say that God may be speaking to the world as much or more through film than through church. Save the hate mail. I’ve heard it before. But if you’re interested in these things, you may enjoy an informal chat sponsored by the iMn. The movie comes out on June 4. Watch it then join us for an informal 1-hour ichat –sometime in early July– about the future of humanity. Group size is limited so to participate email me at firstname.lastname@example.org asap.
See You in the Mystic,
Join me, Neil Cole, and others in the Detroit area this October at the Human Event. Enroll now and get that “early adopter” discount.